The history of jaywalking as a crime is a bit more complicated and a lot more nefarious than you might think. At the turn of the 20th century, pedestrians ruled the roadway. Children played in the middle of the street, vendors pushed their carts next to horses pulling carriages, and everyone was free to roam where and when they pleased. However, the advent of cars brought red lights, yellow lights, and green lights – and the end of pedestrian freedom.
Using money, clever marketing campaigns (which had a lot to do with why we called it 'jaywalking'), and stories about dead children, car companies were able to pressure cities into putting the onus on pedestrians to not get hit, rather than on drivers for not running over pedestrians. If this list gets you thinking that criminalizing jaywalking is dumb, just remember: it is still illegal, and cars still rule the roads.
And this wasn't the only conspiratorial push that the auto industry masterminded to get more people liking and purchasing cars. The General Motors Streetcar thickens the nefarious plot.
The Use Of The Term Jaywalking As Slang For Pedestrians Dates Back To The 1920sPhoto: Isadore Posoff, WPA / Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Laws Against Jaywalking Were First Implemented After The Deaths of 250,000 ChildrenPhoto: 1924 New York Times Cover / via Vox/Fair use
Jay 'Drivers' Existed Before Jaywalkers — Because People Hated Cars
Car Companies Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Were – And Won Over Public AllegiancePhoto: Chicago Tribune / via Forgotten Chicago/Fair use
Before Fines, Cities Would Deter Jaywalkers By Using Public HumiliationPhoto: US Library of Congress / via Vox/Public Domain
A Decision Had To Be Made About Who Owned The Road – And Cars Won