1899: Henry Bliss becomes the first pedestrian known to be killed by an automobile in North America.
Bliss, a Manhattan real estate salesman, had just stepped off a streetcar at West 74th Street and Central Park West (a few blocks south of the American Museum of Natural History) when he was struck by a passing taxicab. It knocked him unconscious, crushing his skull and chest. He died the following morning.
The driver of the cab, an electric-powered vehicle, was arrested and charged with manslaughter. The charges were dropped after it was determined that Bliss’ death was unintentional.
On the centennial of his death, Citystreets, a safety-awareness organization, placed a plaque at the site:
Here at West 74th Street and Central Park West, Henry H. Bliss dismounted from a streetcar and was struck and knocked unconscious by an automobile on the evening of September 13, 1899. When Mr. Bliss, a New York real estate man, died the next morning from his injuries, he became the first recorded motor vehicle fatality in the Western Hemisphere. This sign was erected to remember Mr. Bliss on the centennial of his untimely death and to promote safety on our streets and highways.
Bliss was not the first pedestrian traffic fatality ever recorded anywhere, however. At least two other people are known to have died before him, including Irish scientist Mary Ward, who was run over by a steam-powered car in 1869 in County Down, possibly making her the first auto-traffic victim in the world.
Source: Citystreets.org, Wikipedia
Photo: Citystreets unveiled a historical marker Sept. 13, 1999, at the site of the first U.S. pedestrian automobile fatality. (Courtesy Citystreets.org)
This article first appeared on Wired.com Sept. 13, 2007.