Chauffeurs as we know them are the men and women who drive us from one place to another and offer professional, courteous, high-end customer service. Though chauffeurs still play an important role in the contemporary world, chauffeuring is not a contemporary invention. To know when chauffeuring began – and understand how it has changed – we need to look back to the 15th century.
Aristocracy: The Origins Of The Chauffeur
Archaeologists have found evidence of horse-drawn carts existing in prehistoric times, but it wasn’t until the 15th century that the horse-drawn carriage (called “coaches”) became a staple of aristocratic life. These coaches were driven by coachmen, dedicated servants tasked with driving and maintaining the vehicle.
With the advent of the automobile in 1886, motorized cars soon replaced coaches. When this happened, many coachmen retrained to become “chauffeurs.” Chauffeurs, like coachmen, drove their employers from place to place. Chauffeurs were also in charge of maintaining their employers’ cars. They had to act as mechanics, performing routine maintenance and ensuring that their employer’s car was always operating in top shape.
The term “chauffeur” itself comes from the fact that the earliest motorized cars were powered by steam, and the driver had to stoke the engine to keep it running. Because of this, the word “chauffeur” comes from the French word for “stoker.”
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The Modern Evolution of Chauffeuring
When chauffeurs first rose to prominence in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they served a single employer, much like coachmen before them. But through the years – and especially following the Great Depression – servants fell out of fashion, and many members of the upper class stopped employing chauffeurs. Instead, many drove their cars themselves. However, the chauffeur tradition persisted. Nowadays, most people do not employ personal chauffeurs. Instead, companies supply clients with skilled chauffeurs and high-end vehicles as needed.
Though known by multiple names, the chauffeur has been a symbol for luxury and taste for centuries.