On this day in 1879, Sandor Herz—the future John Hertz, the man behind what will one day be the world’s largest car-rental company—is born in present-day Slovakia.
Hertz immigrated to America with his family as a child and grew up in Chicago. In 1915, he founded the Yellow Cab Company in Chicago as a means of providing affordable transportation to average citizens. Yellow Cab franchises soon opened across the country. In 1923, Hertz bought a rental-car company from Walter Jacobs, who had founded the Chicago-based business in 1918 with a fleet of Ford Model Ts. Hertz renamed the business Hertz Drive-Ur-Self Corporation, and in 1926, it was acquired by General Motors (GM). John Hertz became a member of the board of directors of GM, which in the 1920s overtook Ford to become the world’s biggest automaker.
In 1932, the Hertz company opened its first car rental shop, at Chicago’s Midway Airport. In 1950, Hertz’s inaugural European facility debuted in France. Within five years after that, Hertz became the first rent-a-car business to open 1,000 locations throughout the world. John Hertz, who was also a philanthropist and raised thoroughbred horses, died at the age of 82 on October 8, 1961.
In 2002, Hertz became the first international car rental company to open for business in China. Other milestones in the company’s history include the 2006 rollout of the Green Collection of fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly vehicles. The following year, Hertz added the Toyota Prius, the world’s first mass-produced gas-electric hybrid vehicle to the collection. Also in 2007, Hertz began offering hourly car rentals in New York City and Boston. As of 2008, Hertz had some 8,100 locations in 147 countries worldwide. The company’s reservation centers deal with an estimated 40 million phone calls and 30 million reservations each year.