World Statistics Day: 6 intriguing firsts in the history of motoring

Date Posted 20th October 2021
Read Time 5 min read
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The automotive industry has come a long way since the days of Karl Benz and Henry Ford (though both had a huge impact on the development of cars). We now have better roads, safety features, and all the tech that we could dream of, packed into the cars of today. And if there’s one thing that is important to the automotive industry, it’s data. However, we’re switching it up and stepping away from the quarterly reports and analytics boards to bring you something a little more fun. In celebration of World Statistics Day, here are some numbers that link to 6 intriguing firsts in the history of motoring that are worth knowing about.

12 Miles Per Hour – the first speed limit ever set

How irritable do most drivers get nowadays when they have to slow down to go over speed bumps? Now, imagine this; the very first speed limit ever set was just 12 miles per hour (mph). Crazy by today’s standards, but in May 1901, the state of Connecticut set a 12mph speed limit within the city, and 15mph for the highway. This was the first speed limit directed at motor vehicles. Before this, speed limits were imposed on horse-drawn carriages only, with the state of New York being the first to pass a law that prohibited riding a horse-drawn carriage at a gallop.

1834 – when the first electric car was made

The first ever electric car recorded in history actually predates the very first combustion engine car. Bear with us here. The world’s first electric car was invented by Thomas Davenport in 1834. With a mission to render steam locomotives of that time as obsolete, he built his own battery and motor, and put this in a car.

Now, what the world considers to be the first car ever made, was built by Karl Benz in 1885, a decade after Davenport’s invention. Unfortunately, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) didn’t really understand the concept of electric and didn’t immediately grant Davenport a patent for the device.

When he did eventually get his patent, the electric car didn’t catch on, largely due to the battery being unreliable.

10,894,900 – price of the first car sold for over $10 million

The most expensive car sold at auction in 2021 is the 1995 McLaren F1, which made its way to the owner for a hefty price tag of $20,465,000. However, it was in 2008 when the first car to ever sell for more than $10 million at auction broke records. And it’s no surprise that it was a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider, sold by auction house RM at Maranello. Ferrari takes the trophy for being the most expensive car with 250 high-priced models. Nearly two-thirds of the cars selling for more than $10 million are Ferraris, followed closely by Aston Martin and McLaren.

1893 – when vehicle registration plates were first introduced

It was in France that the first, and most detailed, form of registration plates were made mandatory. The Department of the Seine, under the Paris Police Ordinance of August 1983 passed a law which read: “Each motor vehicle shall bear on a metal plate and in legible writing the name and address of its owner, also the distinctive number used in the application for authorization. This plate shall be placed at the left-hand side of the vehicle – it shall never be hidden.”

In the UK, the first ever number plate recorded as registered was the “A1” plate in 1903, following the Motor Car Act. It was claimed by the Earl Russell at the time. It’s now part of the private collection belonging to the brother of the Sultan of Brunei.

22 feet – the height of the first traffic lights ever installed

The first traffic lights recorded in history were installed on top of a 22ft cast iron pillar. They became fully operational on December 10, 1868, on the corner of Bridge Street and New Palace Yard off Parliament Square in London. The lights were modified from the railway signalling system by British railroad engineer, John Peake Knight.

They were installed primarily to control the traffic of horse carriages on city streets and allow passengers to cross the road safely. However, these particular traffic lights were introduced on the directive of the Metropolitan Police to make it easier for politicians to get into the Houses of Parliament (of course). The OG traffic lights were made up of a revolving lantern and a red and green signal. Unsurprisingly, the lantern was turned by hand and the signs weren’t very popular with the public, especially cabbies. The lights were removed in 1872, and the British capital didn’t welcome back traffic lights onto its streets for another 50 years.

1933 – when the first parking meter was devised

Parking meters were first devised in 1933

Next time you get a parking ticket, you’ll know who to thank (or blame!). Carlton Magee created the first parking meter in 1933. He was the editor of a leading Oklahoma Newspaper and chairman of a committee that was set up to look into implementing stricter parking rules in town.

He established the Dual Parking Meter Company (because the meters worked to control parking AND generate revenue), and the first meter came into service on July 16, 1935. In Britain, the first parking meters started operating on June 10, 1958, in Mayfair, London. Approximately 625 metres were put in place by Westminster City Council, with an hour of parking costing 6 old pence – just two and a half pence in today’s money (total bargain!).