The birth of an icon: on December 6, 1897, London became the first city in the world to host licensed taxicabs, thus setting the bar for taxis, just as they did for underground public transportation.

Even if you’ve never been to London, you’ve probably heard of the black cabs and could identify them as easily as a double-decker bus or a red callbox. They’re almost as quintessentially English as tea and crumpets, and they’re awesome. Seriously, if your idea of a taxi ride is grounded in the nightmares of Manhattan, you need to get yourself to England stat and learn what a real taxi is like. The test taxi drivers in London is so difficult it’s famous: it’s called The Knowledge and forces the drivers to demonstrate an intimate knowledge of London’s twisting warren of streets, the city’s important buildings, and even such details as the order of theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue and the traffic signals you’ll pass on a particular route. It’s the most demanding taxi driver test in the world, typically requiring 34 months’ preparation and 12 tries to pass. The test was initiated in 1865.

For those trivia buffs out there: hackney carriages started providing taxi services in London all the way back in the early 17th century, and by 1636 the number of carriages permitted was set at 50. That same year, the first taxi stand was established in The Strand. Despite their size, black cabs have a turning circle of only 25 feet, allegedly so they could fit in the small roundabout in front of the Savoy Hotel.

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