Initial Thoughts and Findings Regarding the History of Car Rentals

While reading the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, I came across a paragraph that implies the renting of horse-drawn carriages. Individuals or companies offering rental carriages makes sense, but I had not thought about it before. I started to wonder about the history of rental cars and to what degree it was based on carriage rentals.

Based on a cursory Web search, most people consider car rentals to have started with individuals and companies renting cars, not carriage rentals expanding offerings to include cars. The most common narrative I found online is that car rentals started in 1916 when Jon Saunders rented his Model T, although to whom and for what purposes varies depending on the account. It is a nice story, but seems at odds with how businesses evolve and the probability that carriage rentals existed beforehand.

In digging a little bit more, it quickly became clear that carriage rentals did exist. One page I found about livery stables includes a price list:

* Horse rental per day – $0.50
* Horse and buggy rental – $1.00
* Carriage and team – $2.00
* Carriage and driver – $4.00
* Buggy to depot – $1.00
* Horse to pasture – $0.50
* Feed – $0.25
* Bucket of oats – $0.50
* Stall rental – $1.50
* Stall plus hay – $2.50
* One month board on horse – $10.00
* Currying horse – $0.10
* Saddling horse – $0.25
* Repairs on carriage – $0.50 to $1.50 or higher depending on extent of repair needed
* Fee for lost horse blanket – $0.75 for regular blanket, $2.00 for double blanket

The page’s account and price list are interesting but does not draw a link between carriage and car rental operations. Unfortunately, my journalist-level research did not yield additional information on this. However, a Metafilter page points out a PBS Web site about taxis that does draw a link between carriage taxi services and car taxi services. Given the the apparent facts that carriages were rented and the connection between carriage and car taxi services, it seems almost certain that Jon Saunders did not miraculously stumble upon the idea of renting cars, but that the idea developed from long-existing practices. That development, though, requires additional research, but I am satisfied for now.