World War I Centennial Series – Getting Around Paris: U.S. Diplomats Ride in Diverse Styles

map of Paris Metro lines in 1914 -AMTUIR

How to navigate Paris August 1914 w/out the métro, taxis, or private cars? Hire a horse chaise (fiacre)! 

One of the many ways war impacted daily life for all in Paris, including those within the U.S. diplomatic community, was transportation—or lack of it. The Paris Métro closed at 7:30pm to comply with the 8pm curfew imposed in the first days of August 1914. Taxis, much in demand, became scarce and prohibitively expensive while private automobiles were requisitioned by the French military. Those working at the U.S. Embassy at 5, rue de Chaillot thus grew creative in how they travelled around the city.

Ambassador Myron T. Herrick asked U.S. automobile owners in Paris to donate their cars for official Embassy service. Instead of these vehicles’ enfoldment into the French military, they were pressed into diplomatic duty and enabled U.S. diplomats and volunteers to be an effective force from the first days of crisis, an accomplishment of which Herrick was very proud.

Other solutions were also employed. Embassy attaché Eric Fisher Wood hired a fiacre to get around the city. His driver, Paul, and an old horse, Grisette, supplied Wood with a one-horsepower transportation option. Wood wrote that Paul,

“Considers it a great honor to drive for a member of an Embassy and always sits up very straight on his box, for to come and go on missions concerning ‘les affaires des Etats-Unis’ has imbued him with a great sense of dignity and importance. When waiting in front of the Embassy among the limousines he maintains a rigid and dignified position and insists that Grisette, for her part, shall hold up her head and stand on all four feet. Each noon Paul drives [Herbert] Hazeltine [1] and myself down the nearly deserted Champs-Elysées for lunch at the Café Royal. We must make an absurd spectacle with so much dignity on the box and a total lack of it behind, for Hazeltine and I, relaxing from the strenuous work of the morning, lounge in the seat with our feet far out in front, as we discuss with great vehemence affairs connected with our Embassy work.”[2]

[image] map of Paris Metro lines 1914 – Collection AMTUIR
[1] Herbert Hazeltine was an American sculptor who volunteered at the U.S. Embassy in Paris for many months during World War I.
[2] Eric Fisher Woods, The Notebook of an Attaché: Seven Months in the War Zone, (New York: The Century Co., 1915), 33. Project Gutenberg.