Postmen pose on motorized scooters in an unidentified city circa 1915.
Photo: Library of Congress
Photo: Library of Congress

AJC Deja News: Scooters invade downtown Atlanta (1916)

A review of the news that made The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s front pages through the decades.

Today’s AJC Deja News comes to you from the Saturday, Sept. 23, 1916, edition of The Atlanta Constitution.


LOOK OUT PEOPLE! STRANGE NEW STEED COMES TO ATLANTA 

More than a century ago, motorized scooters made their debut on Peachtree Street, and the Atlanta Constitution was there to record the mayhem. 

That's right. Today's debate over the regulation of services such as Bird and Lime is nothing new. Similar vehicles were weaving through traffic while the rest of the world was fighting its first world war, and pedestrians at that time reacted with a mix of alarm and desire.

A 1916 report on the paper's front page describes the "sensational" first sightings of a new fad called the Autoped, which the reporter describes as a "man-toting, animated lawn mower."


LOCAL UPDATEAtlanta City Council lays down law on scooters


Autopeds were manufactured between 1915-19 by the Autoped Company based in Long Island City, N.Y. (a German company made them for two years after that). The gasoline-powered version was more popular but the company also made a version powered by an electric battery. In its heyday, postal carriers and traffic cops used the vehicles in some cities. 

The Atlanta Constitution article describes downtown denizens' first encounter with an Autoped: 

"About the first that natives of these parts knew of the presence of this snorting, smoke-emitting roller skate was when G.C. Dugas, of the Packard agency, owner of the mechanical brute, Friday sailed like a young cyclone into the Ansley hotel lobby, fetched up at the cigar counter, bought a stogie and sputtered out again before anybody had time to realize what was happening." 

"During the rest of the day folks along Peachtree frequently stopped and considered whether to believe their own eyes as they saw Mr. Dugas steering his strange steed through the labyrinth of traffic." 


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Despite the article's mention of Peachtree Street, the Hotel Ansley was one block over on the corner of Williams and Forsyth streets, between today's Rialto Center and Atlanta-Fulton Central Library. The Ansley Hotel was renamed the Dinkler Plaza Hotel and made headlines twice in the early 1960s—in 1961, when its owner Carling Dinkler fell to his death from the building; and in 1964, when it hosted a celebratory dinner for Martin Luther King, Jr. for his Nobel Peace Prize. The building was demolished in 1972. 

Back in 1916, the Constitution reporter describes the growing popularity of motorized scooters and how Mr. Dugas's stogie excursion inspired a dozen new orders.

Signing off like a sales pitch, the reporter advises readers that they too can "just step aboard, give the throttle a twist and you are on your way at twenty-five miles an hour." 

No word in the article on where you could download an app to rent one of the newfangled contraptions.

The Autoped Company of America, of Long Island City, New York, built this lightweight scooter in 1918. This model is part of the collection of the National Museum of American History. 
Photo: Smithsonian Institution

ABOUT DEJA NEWS 

In this highly irregular series, we scour the AJC archives for the most interesting news from days gone by, show you the original front page and update the story.

If you have a story you’d like researched and featured in AJC Deja News, send an email with as much information as you know. Email: malbright@ajc.com. Use the subject line “AJC Deja News.”

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