This week, throughout history, has seen some of the most important innovations in transportation come to life.
But I’ll begin with an event that happened on a different date in 1944: when Maya Angelou, at the age of 16, became San Francisco’s first African American female streetcar conductor. She was at first denied being given a job application; but persevered — the story of her beautiful life. RIP Maya.
Going back now to May 28, 1818, the first steam-powered vessel sailed the Great Lakes. Called the Walk-in-the-Water, the steamboat was two-masted, weighed 338 tons, was 135 feet long and 32 feet wide.
Just about one year later, in 1819, the first bicycles in the US made their debut in New York City. Known as velocipedes or swift walkers, these two-wheeled machines started a revolution — not only in transportation but in myriad social dynamics.
The cover of Harpers Weekly for May 29, 1869, depicted the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, which led to social change in American culture to an even greater extent than the aforementioned bicycle. Within a few weeks of the railroad’s completion, thousands of freight cars were available. In fact, the joining of the Union Pacific line with the Central Pacific line in this month was an inspiration for Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. Indeed, as an image in Harper’s depicts, this railway was “the great link connecting Europe with Asia across the American continent.”
On May 29, 1884, Europe’s first cable-operated light railway made its debut in London; and on May 20, 1899, the first known speeding ticket was issued in New York City to a 26-year-old taxi driver who was zipping along at 12 miles per hour on his “horseless carriage”.
Here in Florida, a few big moments in transportation history were also underway. In May 1926, traffic control towers sat in the middle of Orlando intersections, serving as a bridge between the time when police officers directed traffic by standing in the roadway and the time when automatic traffic signals were installed. From the tower, officers would have a clear view of traffic, greater safety, and the ability to manipulate colored lights.
On May 15, 1928, Mickey Mouse made his debut in a short, six-minute, silent transportation-themed film: “Plane Crazy.” It was co-directed by Walt Disney and UI Iwerks and shown at a Hollywood theater, where audiences weren’t wowed. Florida’s most famous mouse then starred in his second film, “The Gallopin’ Gaucho” where he rode a giant flightless bird, which was received similar reviews. Mickey’s third film, also transportation-themed, was “Steamboat Willie” which earned wide distribution and was one of the first cartoons with synchronized sound. Parents of small children may also note that today’s “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” features the same airplane from Mickey’s first, long-ago film.
Then, on May 29, 1962, Florida’s now (in)famous Interstate 4 opened to the public, though not in full. All sections of I-4 were opened to motorists by March of 1965.
From May 27 to June 4, 1972, “Transpo ’72” was held in D.C., sponsored by the US Department of Transportation. This showcasing of all varieties of transportation-related technologies featured high-speed trains, widebody airliners, flying trains, and square dancing helicopters (not kidding). President Nixon gave opening remarks via transmission from the Soviet Union.