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John D. Hertz

John Hertz, 1899
Born April 10, 1879(1879-04-10)
Sklabina, Martin, Slovakia
Died October 8, 1961 (aged 82)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Occupation Businessman:
Taxis & rental cars
Racehorse owner/breeder
Board member of General Motors
Religion Jewish
Spouse(s) Fannie Kesner
(1903-1961) (his death)
Children Leona Jane
John Jr.

John Daniel Hertz (April 10, 1879 – October 8, 1961) was a Jewish Slovak and Slovak American businessman, thoroughbred racehorse owner, and philanthropist.



Born Sandor Herz in the village of Vrutky, Slovakia[1], part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before . His family emigrated to the United States when he was five.

As a young man, Hertz was an amateur boxer, fighting under the name "Dan Donnelly."[1] He won amateur championships at the Chicago Athletic Association and eventually began to box under his own name and became the manager for Benny Yanger. He lived at 880 Fifth Avenue.[2]

Business career

Hertz's first job was selling newspapers, and eventually he became a reporter for the Chicago Morning News. When the paper, then called the Chicago Record merged with another paper, he lost his job. Although he couldn't drive, in 1904 he found a job selling cars at the suggestion of a friend.[1] Because of the number of trade-ins, he came up with the idea of creating a cab company with low prices so the common man could afford to ride in them. In 1907, he had a fleet of seven used cars that he used as cabs.[1]

He founded the Yellow Cab Company in Chicago in 1915 as a way to provide transportation at a modest price. In the early 20th century, livery services were limited to the upper parts of society and Hertz thought there was huge potential for someone to provide lower cost services. His distinctive yellow cabs became popular and he quickly franchised the operation throughout the United States. In 1924, he expanded the notion of cheaper transportation by acquiring a rental car business, renaming it Hertz Drive-Ur-Self Corporation. Ultimately, both operations were sold to General Motors with Hertz being named to GM's board of directors.

In 1903 he married Fannie Kesner of Chicago with whom he had three children: Leona Jane, John Jr., and Helen. John Jr. became an advertising executive and was briefly married between 1942 and 1944 to film star Myrna Loy.

In 1933, Robert Lehman sold Hertz a minority interest in Lehman Brothers investment bank in New York City and he remained a member of the firm until his death. In 1938 Hertz was prepared to buy Eastern Air Lines from General Motors but the airline's General Manager, Eddie Rickenbacker, was able to raise the necessary financing to acquire Eastern before Hertz could exercise his option.

Thoroughbred horse racing

John and Fannie Hertz were major figures in Thoroughbred horse racing. They owned a horse farm at Trout Valley near Cary, Illinois, another known as Amarillo Ranch in Woodland Hills, California in the San Fernando Valley. However, Stoner Creek Stud on Middletown Road near Paris, Kentucky would become their most important breeding and training center. Among their top horses were the 1928 Kentucky Derby winner and American Horse of the Year, Reigh Count, who sired the legendary Count Fleet, winner of the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing in 1943. Both horses were inducted in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.[1][3]


During the Cold War era, Hertz established the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation with the purpose of supporting military research. Friend Edward Teller urged Hertz to orient his foundation to fund education in the applied sciences. The Hertz Foundation fellowship program is administered primarily by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who are associated with the military's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile defense programs. For his significant contribution to the security of the United States, in 1958 he received the highest civilian award given by the Department of Defense.

In 1924, Hertz fronted the city of Chicago $34,000 to install the city's first traffic lights on Michigan Avenue.[3]

Hertz died in 1961 and his wife died two years later. They are buried together in the [Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York].


  1. ^ a b c d e Sawyers, June Skinner (1991). Chicago Portraits. Chicago: Loyola University Press. pp. 120–121. ISBN 0829407006. 
  2. ^ HERTZ GIVES FUND FOR SCHOLARSHIPS; Transport Fortune to Train Engineers for Defense of Nation He Adopted Focusing on Those in Need, New York Times, Sept. 20, 1957 [1]
  3. ^ a b "Golden opportunity", Chicago Tribune Magazine: 31, 2007-11-25 




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