Scooters? Not a New Idea

Sun, Oct 8, 1916 – Page 58 · New York Herald (New York, New York) ·

It turns out the urban scooter craze isn’t a new idea. From a story in an October 8, 1916 newspaper, “Skidding Through Fact and Fancy on an Autoped: Solo Devil Wagon Taken Up in a Serious Way Might Add New Terrors to City Life” is a description of motorized scooter not all that different than the ones we see today:

You stand on the cute platform and get your feet neatly fitted on the rubber mats which seem to have “Welcome, little stranger,” written all over them, grab the handle and away you go. First you careen like a lugger in a typhoon and then you lurch over until the lee scuppers are awash. You skim along the asphalt and say “Whoa!” just like that.

In your frenzy you give the handles a twist and then fall all over yourself and meet your spats coming back. The autoped has the disposition of a bronco and the guile of an eel. However, take heart of grace and go to it for one has but one neck and two legs and is likely to come away with some of them.

The autoped was patented in 1913 and manufactured by the Autoped Company of Long Island City, New York between 1915 to 1921. It was propelled by a 4-stroke, 155 cc engine. After the autoped company went out of business Krupp made a version in Germany between 1919 to 1922. I going to take a wild guess that it didn’t catch on for two reasons: car companies successfully bribed city governments to design our roads to favor cars and push out any competition and the fact that a motorcycle or bicycle, with their larger wheels, are more stable than standing on a scooter.

The 1916 article echos some of the contemporary paranoia about scooters. On that note, I’m happy to see anything that gets people out of cars which are the real, “Devil Wagons.” Let us remember that our auto addiction is responsible for 1.3 million deaths around the world every year. Here in Los Angeles, like many other cities, there is a “first mile/last mile” problem with using our subway/light rail system. That is, the trains here in LA work as reasonably as any train in our backwards country, but it can take a long time to get to the station if you don’t live within walking distance. I can definitely see something like rental bikes and scooters as part of a transportation solution that addresses climate change, first mile-last mile problems and congestion. I also have hope that the folks trying out the scooters will see how bad conditions on our streets are and will help fight for better infrastructure for alternative transportation.

That said, I’m not crazy about the companies that run the scooters. They are the same predatory tech bros who care nothing for their employees or for the niceties of working with communities and governments. I’m also skeptical about braving LA’s many potholes on something with small wheels but maybe that’s just cranky old risk-averse me. At least electric scooters are an improvement on the autoped’s internal combustion engine.

Thanks to @PessimistsArc for the tip.

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  1. Imagine hitting uneven cracks in sidewalks! With roller skates, a person can at least avoid those cracks. On the roads we have so many potholes that I must have four wheels under me. How many people have been saved by swift transport to hospitals? Trains and airplanes have killed lots of people, too.

    • Thank you for your concern. I was in my workshop sharpening a chisel when I noticed that the wrenches on the wall were moving back and forth. My garage workshop is in a concrete bunker at the base of the hill below our house. I ran like hell out of the garage, chisel in hand. We’re a long way from the epicenter so I didn’t actually feel any shaking. Kelly, who was upstairs in the house, didn’t even know an earthquake had happened. She had just emailed our neighbors about . . . getting together for an emergency preparedness meeting!

  2. I live in DC, I walk everywhere I can, and I detest scooters. They need to be banned from sidewalks. When they are left blocking the sidewalk, I move them [altho not into the street . . . . yet]. Overheard an interesting discussion in a local coffee shop the other day. Folks were stocking a “pedestrian survival kit” — including wire cutters, quick-set epoxy, and a floppy hat [in case of CCTV cameras]. They figured they could disable a scooter in less than a minute.

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