This Day in History, 1901: The First Speed Limit in the U.S.

Cameron Neveu

On May 21, 1901, Connecticut enacted the first motor vehicle speed limit in the United States. The law passed the State General Assembly after its initial plan to curtail speed was loosened a bit to allow travel at 12 mph in cities and 15 mph on more rural routes. Anxious drivers have been looking in their mirrors ever since.

There were earlier punishments for speeding, even before specific limits were in place. The History Channel’s website on the new law notes that Jacob German was the first motorist to be arrested for driving too fast. The brief front-page story in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was published exactly two years prior, on May 21, 1899. According to the story, German was observed driving at “break neck speed” and was pursued as he made his way in his electric taxi cab from Lexington Avenue onto 23rd Street in Manhattan. The police officer was able to apprehend German while on his bicycle, clocking the speeding lunatic at a blistering 12 mph. That was considered fast at the time and would be remarkably fast for Manhattan today, now that we think about it.


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    It would be interesting to know how the implementation of speed limits affected the sign-making industry. How many speed limit signs have been produced since 1901? How many companies have depended on that business in 120 years – and are any of them still in the same biz?

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