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Origins of the word Chauffeur

Many of us take the word “chauffeur” to identify someone behind the wheel of an executive car. The driver may, or may not, be wearing a peaked hat, dark suit and a pair of white gloves, one thing for sure is that he/she should always be well groomed. So, let’s go back and see what history tells us…

The word chauffeur started to be used around 1896, originating from the French term for “stoker”, because railroad and sea vessels were steam-powered and required the driver to stoke the engine. By 1902, the earliest automobiles, like the trains and sea vessels, also relied on steam. Here then, comes the first nod towards a professional driver. And the term has remained with us ever since.

Early petrol and gasoline-powered motor cars, before the advent of electric ignition, were ignited by ‘hot tubes’ in the cylinder head, which had to be pre-heated before the engine would start. Hence the term chauffeur in this context means something like, “heater-upper”.

The chauffeur’s job would have involved priming the hot tubes at the start of a journey. After this job was done, the natural compression cycle of the engine would keep them at the correct temperature. The chauffeur also maintained the car, including routine maintenance and cleaning, and had to be a skilled mechanic to deal with breakdowns and tyre punctures, which were very common in the early years of the automobile.

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