“The alarming increase in automobile accidents everywhere during the past few years has rendered the correction of traffic conditions one of the most important municipal problems of the present day. The motor car has become the greatest menace to human life, and has made the streets of the cities places of real danger.”
Except for that quaint phrase “motor car” you might have thought this was written yesterday, because then as now, Memphians have always been bad drivers. Why, my chauffeur tells me about near-death experiences almost every day! But this observation actually comes from the introduction to a little booklet archived in the Lauderdale Library called “Memphis 1929 Traffic Code,” and it’s just full of fascinating rules and regulations.
Then as now, city officials probably realized the situation was hopeless. It really doesn’t set a very confident tone, if you ask me, that the advertisement on the FRONT COVER is for J.T. Hinson and Son, the “world’s finest ambulance” service.
Space (and a near-terminal case of ennui) prevent me from listing all the tedious laws from this booklet, but here are some of the most interesting ones:
Hitching Horses: No person shall hitch or fasten any horse to a hydrant, or to any ornamental or shade tree or lamp post. (This was in 1929, remember — not the 1800s.)
Bells on Animals Prohibited: No person shall drive or ride upon any street any animal with a bell or bells of any description attached thereto, provided that this section shall not apply to any animal harnessed to a sleigh or sled. (In other words, it’s okay for Santa Claus.)
Speed Limit: In no event shall any motor vehicle, streetcar, or other vehicle, however operated, be driven on any street at a speed greater than 25 miles per hour. In turning a corner at intersecting streets, or in turning on a curve, the rate of speed shall not exceed 10 miles per hour.
Speed Limit for Trucks: No trucks or vehicles designed for carrying freight and merchandise of one-ton capacity shall be driven at a greater speed than 20 miles per hour.
Persons on Skates: No child or other person shall be allowed or permitted to use the streets of the City of Memphis for the purpose of rolling thereon on roller skates, and no person on a bicycle or upon roller skates, or other means of locomotion, shall hang onto, catch hold of, or otherwise attach himself to a moving streetcar or other moving vehicle for the purpose of being propelled thereby along the street.
Coasting Prohibited: The driver of a motor vehicle when traveling upon a down grade upon any highway shall not coast with the gears of such vehicle in neutral.
Vehicles for Advertising Not To Stop: Vehicles used primarily for advertising purposes, and displaying either posters, or placards, or displaying for public inspection any article for sale, or for the inspection of the public, shall not stop in the congested district, but shall move continuously at a rate of speed exceeding 3 miles per hour.
And then here is my personal favorite:
Dirigible Searchlights: Dirigible searchlights or spotlights shall not be used on public streets.
I am NOT making this up.
It goes on and on, but I think you get the idea. Some things have changed; some things haven’t (and never will). What also makes this booklet so appealing — to me, anyway — are the curious advertisements for long-gone businesses sprinkled throughout. I’ve scanned just a few examples below, and boy that “skinless frankfurter” ad gives me the heebie-jeebies. Put your skin back ON, little frankfurter. Enjoy!