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September 13, 1899 – The first person killed by an automobile in the US

On this day in 1899 Henry Bliss was exiting a streetcar at West 74th Street and Central Park West in New York City when he was struck by an electric taxicab driven by Arthur Smith. The vehicle crushed Bliss’ head and chest, causing him to die from his injuries by the next morning, making him the first person to be killed by an automobile in the United States. Smith, who was ferrying Dr. David Edson, the son of former NYC Mayor Franklin Edson, was charged with manslaughter, but was later acquitted.

Henry Bliss in 1873

On the 100th anniversary of the event a plaque was placed and dedicated at the intersection where the accident occurred. It reads, “Here at West 74th Street and Central Park West, Henry H. Bliss dismounted from a streetcar and was struck and knocked unconscious by an automobile on the evening of September 13, 1899. When Mr. Bliss, a New York real estate man, died the next morning from his injuries, he became the first recorded motor vehicle fatality in the Western Hemisphere. This sign was erected to remember Mr. Bliss on the centennial of his untimely death and to promote safety on our streets and highways.”

The dedication ceremony was attended by the great-granddaughter of Bliss, who placed flowers where the accident occurred. Read the original New York Times article about the event here.

Cover photo – Fourteenth St., looking east from Broadway, New York, 1899, Library of Congress archives.

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