Once a name honoured throughout The Holy Roman, and later Austrian, Empire that no explanation would have been necessary. Today probably few people even in their old areas of operation would know the answer to the question: What did Thurn & Taxis business actually do?
Today the family is one of the richest in Germany. But their name and fortune was made as Imperial Postmasters to the Habsburg Emperors in Vienna in the 16th to 18th centuries. The family originated, however, from Bergamo in Italy. They were Postmasters long before the modern system of national postal services. They began their business whilst still living in Italy. They ran postal services between the various medieval Italian states, with the earliest reference to them being from the 13th century from Milan. They became postmasters for The Holy Roman Empire in 1489. In 1504 they provided similar services to the Habsburgs of Spain. It was in Spain that the business first offered a postal service to members of the general public, rather than just to the Head of State. In 1695 the family was advanced to the rank of Imperial Princes of the Empire by Leopold I.
The business expanded into Germany, Hungary, and what is today the Benelux countries as well as maintaining businesses in Italy, Austria, and Spain. The businesses were carried on by different branches of the family - the Spanish Branch died out in the 18th century. At its height the family employed thousands of messengers criss-crossing the continent on horseback.
By the 17th century attitudes towards postal services in Europe was changing, as national structures became more fixed. In England a nationwide service was established by the Crown in the reign of Charles I and took off in the reign of his son, Charles II. Better, and faster, coaches were later to power this change. Big change came to continental Europe during the period of Napoleon's dominance, not least with his abolition of The Holy Roman Empire.
Thus in the 19th century the Thurn & Taxis business became a private postal service, but a no less lucrative one. It was then operating throughout the various states of Germany. The HQ was in Regensburg, where the family still live today. This service ran from 1806 to 1866, when it was bought by the Kingdom of Prussia.
The first postage stamps were issued in Britain in 1840 and soon the idea of pre-posted payments became the norm. Thurn & Taxis were able to issue their own postage stamps before they sold the last of their businesses off to Prussia. Thus today philatelists can own a tiny piece of Thurn & Taxis history.
Over the centuries they had invested their postal profits into land, principally in Germany. Yet they still own Duino Castle in Italy where the resident member of the family carries the title Duke of Castel Duino. In 1996 they sold their brewery business in Germany to the Paulaner Group. However, when in Germany, you can still purchase a beer carrying their name, Thurn und Taxis. As you drink it raise your tankard to the memory of one of the great business families of early modern Europe.
They have left another more enduring legacy of their once European wide postal service, namely the post horn which has become a symbol of the post in a number of States.. The post horn was originally part of the family's own crest of arms.
Remember history is all around us if we have eyes to see!