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The Improbable Story Behind the First Major Car Accident in the U.S.




We've all been there — stuck in rush hour traffic, wondering how there could possibly so many cars with so many moronic drivers. It's amazing how a simple collision in one lane on the highway can bottleneck traffic so badly.


It also makes it nice to think about a time before automobiles became the staple of American transportation. That goes all the way back at the turn of the 19th century, in the 1890s.


The history behind automobiles in the 1800s is scarce, because of how rare they were. Very few people were even capable of building such a machine, and those that were kept them to themselves. There was simply no public demand for automobiles.


The first car accident in the United States occurred in 1891 in Ohio. This was a time when Cleveland, not Detroit, was the center of the car manufacturing industry. James William Lambert and a passenger were driving in Lambert's car — the first ever single-cylinder gas automobile. The car hit a tree root and spun out of control, smashing into a hitching post.


Amazingly, both passengers only sustained minor injuries. Lambert even went on to register nearly 600 automobile-related patents!


While this was the first documented U.S. automobile accident, it can't really be considered a "major" car accident. That honor belongs to an 1896 car accident in St. Louis.


At the time, only FOUR cars were registered in the United States. While this is in part because states did not have any requirements for vehicle registration, there were still only a handful of functional automobiles in the country.


Two of those four cars collided with each other in St. Louis.


The odds of such an accident are incredibly slim — it has to be one of the least probable events to ever occur!

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