Evolution of the Limousine
As you would know if you saw our infographic, the history of the limousine isn’t just about cars—it’s a story of wealth, status, technology and taste, and how they changed across the 20th century.
Evolution of the Limousine
The word ‘limousine’ comes from the French region of Limousin, where shepherds wore a particular style of hooded cloak. The original design of the vehicles—with the passengers inside the enclosed part of the vehicle and the driver outside—was said to resemble the hood of the Limousin cloak.
Unlike many other types of car, the limousine is neither named for, nor adapted from, the design of a horse-drawn carriage. The first automobile limousines appeared in Paris around 1899, and the first use of “limousine” in English recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1902. (There were some plans to make “limousine” horse-drawn carriages modeled on the car design, but that idea never really took off.)
Limousines had no luxury associations at first—in Paris, limos were popular as delivery vehicles, because the covered section kept goods dry! Limousines first came to the U.S. in 1903, and in 1916 the Society of Automobile Engineers defined a limousine as “A closed car seating three to five inside, with a driver’s seat outside, covered with a roof.”
Woodrow Wilson seems to have been the first president to use a limo as a means of transport, although earlier presidents did travel in cars. By that time, the driver had been brought in (literally) from the cold, and the driver’s seat was brought into the car, with a partition between driver and passengers.
But the essence of a limousine was always the separation between passengers and a hired driver—giving limos an association with service, privacy, and status they’ve retained ever since. That sense of status only increased as cars became more widely available—having someone else to drive for you was a particular privilege. In 1922, the phrase “luxurious limousines” appeared in a romance novel.
The next great innovation in the limousine was the stretch limo, which was an all-American invention. The first stretch limo was built in Fort Smith, Arkansas, by Armbruster—now the Armbruster Stageway Company, still building limos and funeral cars—around 1928. When American bandleader Benny Goodman showed up to a gig in one, stretch limos began to be used to transport big bands and their bandleaders—beginning the long association between limos and the famous.
The Depression and World War II put a dent in the prospects of the limo, but in the post-war boom both the cars and the industry got bigger. While James P. Carey opened New York’s first limo service in 1921, the modern limousine industry is a product of the 1980s, when economic growth and the expanding financial industry fueled a taste for getting around in style. It’s not a coincidence that on our list of top ten limo movie scenes of all time, the oldest is from 1981.
Since then, the connection between limousines and style has only grown—“limousine” has come to stand for any luxury or chauffeured car, like Luxor Limo’s Sedans and SUVs.
If you need a ride in a limo today, Luxor Limo’s cars have a very short history, with one of the youngest commercial fleets in New York.