May 20, 1899 – The first US speed ticket is issued

On this day in 1899, New York City taxicab driver Jacob German left his mark on history by becoming the first person in the United States to be cited for speeding while driving an automobile. German drove a cab for Electric Vehicle Company, which leased its cars to be used as taxis in the bustling city. The car that German was driving was known as an Electrobat (example pictured above), which was a fully electric vehicle invented in 1894. There were about 60 of them operating as taxis in 1899.

At the time, New York had speed limits for horses and cars of 8 miles per hour when traveling in a straight line and 4 miles per hour when going around a corner. German was traveling an astonishing 12 miles per hour. It was so fast that the bicycle officer who pulled German over actually arrested and imprisoned him!

It is unclear if German was given a written citation or not. The first known paper citation in the US was given to Harry Myers in Dayton, Ohio in 1904. He was also traveling a breakneck 12 miles per hour. The first known speeding ticket issued to an automobile driver in the world actually came on January 28, 1896 and was issued to Walter Arnold of East Peckham, Kent. Arnold was caught going 8 miles per hour in a 2 mile per hour zone and earned a fine of 1 shilling!

In the video above, shot by Thomas Edison in 1901, an Electrobat can be seen entering the screen at about the 30 second mark. He is obviously not traveling with the lightning speed of Mr. German.