Wow, I’ve always told folks they should buckle up in cabs, and voila! history provides me with a lovely tale for the wary. It turns out that the first automobile fatality in the United States was caused (no surprise) by a New York City cab:
The public’s perception of this newfangled conveyance took a deep public relations dive on Sept. 13, 1899, when Henry H. Bliss stepped off a streetcar in Manhattan and was flattened by an electric-powered taxicab, becoming the first automobile fatality in the country.
Poor Bliss. This freaked people out. The “devil wagon” was much maligned and feared, to the extent that the state of Vermont made it mandatory for drivers to have someone go ahead of the car and wave a red flag wherever they went.
In the early 1900s in the US the car was still considered a novelty with no practical value. It cost oodles and put to the test:
The first effort to cross the country in 1899 ended inauspiciously for the car. The trip had to be called off after a one-armed bicyclist made up a 10- day head start from New York and passed the hapless car before it reached Syracuse.
These quotes come from a hilarious, fascinating and also I daresay, awesome article about the first San Francisco to New York journey by car. Until then, people thought the US had been “done”–that the frontier was closed. Now people started thinking about highways. Long distance drives at speeds hurtling up to 30 miles an hour became possible. Incredible!
The first trip took only 63 days, and was made after a bet between gentlemen. Our first driver: Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, apparently also known as The Mad Doctor. What a way to go down in history!
Later in his life, Horatio would be stopped by the police for violating the speed limit in town. The speed limit was 6 miles an hour. (You read that right. Six.) In the first decade of the century in the US, there were only 10 miles of paved road in the country. But times, they were a’changin’! By the 1920s, the US had 387,000 miles of paved road, and the California-New York drive took only 13 days–and of course car accidents were causing more and more deaths.
Enjoy the San Fran Chronicle article! And buckle up! 🙂