Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1917’

Sunday Driver

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 24, 2010

When you’re in a vehicle following another that is holding up traffic because it appears to be driven aimlessly, with no destination in mind and very slowly, the driver of that vehicle is said to be a Sunday driver.

The Norwalk (Connecticut) Hour newspaper published an article on July 20, 1933 entitled, “Saturday Driver Worse Than Sunday.”  The article read in part:

Saturday, not Sunday, is the most dangerous day to operate an automobile on the highways of the state, statistics collected by the State Motor Vehicle Department show.  For long years, the “Sunday driver” has borne the blame of his fellow drivers as the cause of the most of the week end crashes.  Has the “Sunday driver” started driving Saturday since the depression?

Sunday drivers have been the bane of travellers around the world for a number of decades it would appear. In a letter to the Editor of the New York Times, J. Martin Haas wrote the following on October 12, 1932:

It has been my custom for a number of years to take my family each Sunday on little trips on the suburban roads surrounding New York City.  My observations made on these drives lead me to believe that the crying need is not for more traffic regulations but for education, if possible, of the so-called “Sunday driver” than which there is no greater menace.

Four years earlier on March 11, 1928, another New York Times reader wrote the Editor on the subject of the Sunday driver.  In his letter he stated:

The “Sunday driver” is, in fact, often a nuisance and sometimes a danger on the road. When father and the family pile into their Sunday-go-to-country car for the weekly outing, whoever drives –and it’s just as likely to be mother or daughter as father or son — may lack the calm assurance required.

A tongue-in-cheek piece was published in the Los Angeles Times on May 10, 1927 entitled “Traffic Rules for the Sunday Driver.”  It began with this:

On account of only taking out your car on Sundays, you are entitled to a lot of special privileges.  For one thing, you can drive anywhere on the road you please.  This entitles you to select your own ditch.

In 1898, Alexander Winton started selling the first commercially successful gasoline cars in the US.  By the end of 1899, he had sold 22 cars.  With only 22 cars on the roads entering the 20th century, Sunday drivers didn’t appear to be a concern to other drivers. 

By 1903, one could purchase a gas Oldsmobile for $650, a Stanley steam Runabout for $650, a Cadillac for $750, the first model A Ford for $750, and a Baker electric Runabout for $850.  Ten years later in 1913, Henry Ford began making his cars on assembly lines. 

This made the motor car more affordable to the average American.  Ford began paying his loyal employees $5 per day and the price of Ford cars dropped down to $290 per car.  That year, 250,000 Ford cars were sold!

With 97,225,000 Americans in the US in 1913, that meant that 1 in about 400 Americans owned a Ford vehicle.  As car manufacturing increased, so did the number of car owners. 

On July 18, 1917 the Chicago Daily Tribune carried a story about a William Butterfield Sunday entitled “Billy Sunday Hits Trail to Court; Driver Is Fined.”  The 96 word news bite read in part:

For violating a traffic ordinance, Motorcycle Officer Frank Ervin took Sunday and his car to police headquarters The case was booked in the name of William Butterfield Sunday.  He was fined and Sunday promised to pay more attention to traffic rules in the future.

Perhaps this is where the term “Sunday driver” originated however that is only conjecture on the part of Idiomation.

While the earliest published reference to a Sunday driver that Idiomation could find dated back to 1928, based on how the term was used in the New York Times letters to the Editor, it appears to have been a relatively new term that was entering the American jargon with great ease.  Somewhere in the 15 years between 1913 and 1928, the annoying and dangerous “Sunday driver” was born.

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Dragnet

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 27, 2010

Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to read is true.” 

Many of us are familiar with the opening voice over from the “Dragnet” radio and television series.

A dragnet is a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals and other individuals.  The term comes from the fishing technique of dragging a fishing net across the sea bottom or through a promising area of open water.  While the fishing reference has been around for centuries, the police reference isn’t nearly as old.

In a book entitled “Illinois Parole Law” published in 1942 by the Department of Public Welfare for the State of Illinois it was stated that:

Two-fifths of Illinois population is in Cook county and the board is continually endeavoring to adjust its work to the problems of the city.  Two reasons actuate it.  First, a desire to protect the city from persons who have in the past been guilty of crime, and, second, ad esire to protect the parolee from the police dragnet and the many temptations and handicaps of city life.

Ten years before that, on May 18, 1932, newspapers reported that Luigi Malvese, bootleg gangster, was ambushed and shot to death in front of the Del Monte Barbershop at 720 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco, California.   It was reported that “a police dragnet rounded up some 1,000 usual suspects in an attempt to pressure the underworld to rein in its wild men.” Louis Dinato, Al Capone’s tailor, was among those rounded up.

But long before the gangsters of the Prohibition Era, back in 1917, Ordway Rider was shot and died from a bullet wound to the chest.  His death was a cause célèbre in Edwardian Boston, pushing stories of war off the front page of all the papers for days.  According to the February 23 edition of The Boston Globe, in an article entitled “Police Dragnet Out For Bandits” it was reported that:

 ” … Ordway Rider was shot and instantly killed on the night of Feb. 21st 1917 by Bandits. Robbery was the motive. He was manager of one of the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company’s stores. He was held in high esteem by the company. His age was 58-6months.”

That being said, the earliest published reference I could find that speaks of a police dragnet was found in The Chicago Daily Tribune which published a news story on January 19, 1896 with the headline, “Bicycle Thieves Caught in Meshes of Police Dragnet.”

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A Chain Is Only As Strong As Its Weakest Link

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 23, 2010

It’s true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  The phrase is something wrongly attributed to Vladimir Lenin prior to the Revolution of 1917 concerning why the Bolsheviks were agitating the Russian Proletariat.

Cornhill Magazine published an article in 1868 that contained this bit of advice:  “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link; but if you show how admirably the last few are united … half the world will forget to the security of the … parts which are kept out of sight.”

However, the phrase can be traced back to a comment written in a letter from C. Kingley dated December 1, 1856 that states:  “The devil is very busy, and no one knows better than he that nothing is stronger than its weakest part.”

And earlier than that, in 1786, Thomas Reid wrote his “Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man” wherein he stated:  “In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest.”

And so while there are those who believe this phrase is a translation of an older Latin proverb or that it comes from the Bible, the fact is that it appears that the only proverb that is remotely similar to this is a Basque saying;  “Haria meheenean eten ohi da” which translates into “A thread usually breaks from where it is thinnest.”

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