Before the invention of the car, jaywalking wasn’t a recognized concept.
Want to get across the street? Then just walk across the street—nobody’s going to stop you.
But the rise of the automobile posed a new problem for people of the early 20th century. While the median state-designated speed limit for American cities was just 10 miles per hour in 1906, the pace of American streets soon increased enough that people who wanted to cross them were suddenly putting themselves in harm’s way.
So cities across the U.S. started to regulate where and when pedestrians could cross.
Despite the clear mortal danger, these regulations were pretty broadly ignored until motorists and police started using an even more powerful force than law: ridicule.
In his 2007 paper, “Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street,” Peter D. Norton describes how ridicule was recognized early on as the best socializing force to control pedestrian behavior—behavior that would have to change with the times. Laws might help regulate pedestrians, but when there are too few police officers and too many citizens, there needs to be a radical shift in public attitude if a given law is deemed too radical for its time.
For instance, a law that would restrict how a person could do something as basic as crossing the street.
As long as there is something worth stealing it is probably the case with the human race that what that something is won’t be, and will be stolen.
This has been the case forever, and as vigilant as an owner of property might be–whether that bit that stood for labor exchange units was a cow or land or gold or money itself–there will be someone else out there in the anti-vigilant world tempting fate and chance and skill at taking someone else’s belongings away.
We have a little window that has opened to reveal a piece of that world–an unusual one, for the 19th century, anyway.
That is what I saw when breezing through the memoirs of George Washington Wallace (1823-1891), Recollections of a Chief of Police, which was published in 1887.
Wallace was police chief of New York City, making him the police chief (sorry, Chicago), and he had some pretty good recollections to recollect.
(Which is a good thing he recorded this book when he did, because he would be dead four years later.