A Hansom cab is a type of horse drawn carriage originally designed to be used as a vehicle for hire. The vast majority of Hansom cabs built and sold since the design was developed in the 1830s have ended up as vehicles for hire, although a small number have been held by individuals for personal and private use. Today, the widespread use of alternative methods of transport has made the Hansom cab largely obsolete, although a few companies continue to specialize in the design and construction of these unique carriages.
The term “cab” is short for “cabriolet,” a type of two-wheeled carriage. The Hansom Safety Cab, as it was originally known, was designed by Joseph Aloysius Hansom, a British engineer, in response to concerns about the safety of horse-drawn vehicles. The design brought the center of gravity low, allowing the Hansom cab to corner at high speeds, and it provided more protection for passengers with a partially enclosed coach. The driver sits on the back of the cab, a position which may be convenient for viewing the road and dealing with passengers, but would have been brutally uncomfortable in the winter.
Hansom cabs quickly caught on across England, and quickly spread to other regions of the world, such as New York, where the New York Times informed readers in 1869 that the Hansom Cab Company had just been established to provide transport to New Yorkers. Hansoms were cheap to operate, since only a single horse was required, and their lightweight design made them easy to handle and store. These cabs were in use in some regions until the 1930s, when they were finally driven off the road by cars.
Several urban areas offer Hansom cab rides as a novelty. Tourists typically pay a steep fee for the privilege of a brief tour, and the cabs are restricted to certain areas to address traffic and safety concerns. Several animal welfare organizations have protested the use of carriage horses in places like London, New York City, and Chicago, arguing that the streets are unsafe and stressful for horses.
Hansoms are also sometimes used in weddings, and several stables provide them for use in period films set in eras when Hansoms were in use. Learning to drive a Hansom cab takes special skills, as the driver sits quite a distance from the horse, and the design can be top heavy, which can make it dangerous in some conditions.