I've been asked this question at car shows, and noticed the topic discussed on the forum before. Over the last several months, while searching for other things, I came upon a few articles on the subject:
First, a 1906 Cleveland news article discussing the use of headlamps (and side lamps) in cities. At the time, Tom L. Johnson was mayor of Cleveland, and credited with inventing a device to turn off acetylene headlamps from the drivers seat. According to this account, head lamps were required to be turned off in some jurisdictions and only side lamps used at night. The account adds "it is claimed that the light flashes suddenly into the eyes of horses and people. Many runaways are said to result from it."
It is also states "in French and German cities the rule against the big lamps is as imperative as that against the violation of speeds laws."
Mayor Johnson is labeled one of the "best Mayors in U.S. history" by some historians. Major Johnson owned four cars in 1906, with the most expensive costing $13,000 and the least expensive selling for $2500 (now you know how I found Mayor Johnson, he owned a Ford Model K along with his more expensive automobiles ).
A 1906 Chicago newspaper article titled "Strong Headlights a Lurking Danger:" The story also says about headlamps, "along the lighted city streets they are not only useless, but dangerous."
And in 1915, this "Motor" magazine article states there are three reasons for the continued use of side lamps, one being "for city driving where glaring head lights are prohibited."
Never heard anyone refer to T's headlights as 'powerful lanterns'! Imagine acetylene was even dimmer than electric. Just another xenophobic response to new tech.
Depends how you look at it......
With a good set of mirrors, a large set of headlamps throw off pretty good light. I suspect a horse that has never been around a car, let alone a car at night making a lot of unfamiliar smells and noises might have been easily spooked.
(did I mention my wife's horse that bucked me off four weeks ago, displacing two and cracking two ribs when the dog ran under him and he spooked.... )
This all needs to be taken in perspective to the time. If there were street lamps at all, they were probably gas and did not give off much light. People still used kerosene lamps inside their houses. Acetylene as shown above is quite bright compared to the other types of lighting in common use at the time.
I can see where a horse might get spooked, not only from the lights but also the sound of the car. It was especially a problem with the owners of a Model K who drove the car at breakneck speed.
I read up on this a while back and was surprised at how wide spread laws were at one time to dim headlights when in town. I found headlight lense adds of the period that promised if you got a bright light ticket with their product they would help you fight it in court. Before it was all over it became so wide spread that people began running into parked cars at night so more laws were passed that required cars parked overnight on the street had to have a light on the left rear fender that shown white to the front and red to the rear.
This brought back old memories.
When I lived in Mexico City and went to Univ of Mexico in 1961, everybody drove with their parking lights, and just flashed their headlights at intersections. I think it was the practice in all Mexican cities.
My Devin/VW had no parking lights, so it stood out. It had 5" 6V. jeep sealed beams.
Our hotel in Acapulco...
Howard, when I lived in West Germany in the 1980s, many streets were so narrow that it was a law in most towns to leave the left running lights on all night.
Also, I think it is still against the law here in the US in most places to drive within city limits with the brights on even if there is no oncoming traffic.
(I have no source for that info, just something I grew up hearing from people. It might be one of those things like you hear people when they say it is against the law to drive without shoes on. Everyone says it but it in fact is NOT true. At least here in Oregon.)
More great research, btw Rob! And I hope you are healing up nicely. I displaced a rib in a high school weight training class 35 years ago and it still gives me fits if I cough wrong.
Here's the overnight parking light required for a time.
Ha Ha. A highly experienced avionics technician with an EE degree spent hours trying to figure out why the left side corner and tail lamps were lit on his Porsche 914. He finally found they went out after returning the turn signal lever to neutral, but not why. Those are special low wattage lamps. I explained it to him, as Danial did, above.
When I was growing up, an old man in our neighborhood (born 1883) told a few of us kids about the first time he ever saw a car. It was 1905 and he was 22 years old. It was at night, and as he described it, this noisy "unknown" THING with bright lights on it was coming at him on a country road. He said he walked off into the darkness of a field to watch it pass. Had no idea what it was. Said every hair on his body was standing on end. Of course, he asked around after such an experience and quickly figured it all out, but that first encounter scared the shat out of him, he said !
And here I thought it was to get a little light under the hood in case you needed to tinker at night!
Were not many of the early kero lamps removable? Bud.
I worked the "Gas Compressor" world out in the "Oil Patch" for over thirty years.
I think a very stupid thing I saw in remote parts of Egypt was the habit of driving with no lights at night. I am not sure if there was a law against driving without lights or just some thought about saving your battery??
The oil company vehicles I rode in all used their headlights. We heard about a car tractor accident while I was there that was probably caused by no lights
I meant a law against driving with lights at night?????
Our 65 Mercedes 190 Sedan had many safety accessories and lamp positions. It had a parking lamp switch that turned on the fender lamps for parking. One position for the left side and one for the right side. They were also the direction signals. I never saw the wiring diagram but I'll bet it was five pages long.
Our 1912 Buick Roadster had a post at the left rear fender mount and a small kerosene lamp showing white ahead and red behind. It was much like the one shown above but was mounted to a vertical rod rather the sheet metal. The car was fitted with Corcoran lamps all around.
I find this very amusing when compared to the currently running thread on swapping to 12 volts for brighter lights.
Another thing I noticed during this period was the large increase in the amount of aftermarket spotlight adds showing people reading house numbers and street signs with their new accessory. I have a spotlight labeled "Dirigible Searchlight" from the WWI period.
Spotlights were good for getting sidehill salmon (deer) in rural Oregon.
Side-hill salmon - classic!
Here is a link to a bunch of other old logging slang terms:
"Why did early cars have both head lamps and side lamps?"
Well, it's really not just early cars. We kind of still have the same thing on new cars today. So, we could ask, why do we have parking lights? (Aside from the fact that they tend to double as turn signal indicators) The side lights have just moved down the fender to sit along side the headlights but, they're essentially the same thing.
On Ford and other makes, side lamps were "standard equipment" while head lamps were optional. It seems head lamps were illegal for use in many cities, and side lamps were required. I suspect this is why automakers (like Ford) kept side lamps as standard equipment (long before turn signals). I can't imagine Ford would have continued to provide side lamps if they were not required (even after headlamps became standard equipment).
It appears by 1914-1915 some automakers were placing dimmers and dim bulbs in electric headlamps, and there was a discussion about no longer requiring side lamps be used in cities.
I have a pair of gas sidelamps I bought on tbay years ago.
Here's what Aussie Hughes said about them:
"Hell, The lamps in your photograph were almost certainly made in France. They were called "Opera Lamps". They were fitted IN ADDITION to other lamps on chauffeur-driven cars, and they usually had coloured or distinctive patterns in one side. The idea was, as you left the theatre, or opera at night, you could more easily identify your car as it approached. Hope this helps.
Best regards, John Hughes
I've seen a few advertisements for acetylene side lamps (instead of kerosene/lamp oil). I'll try to find an example. Thanks for posting,
Dietz acetylene headlamp:
Should have said "side lamp", not head lamp...
Rob, Thank you for the articles and the wonderful history lesson.
Rob, Thank you for the articles and the wonderful history lesson.
As far as I know side lamps were required by law.
Nothing but a carryover from buggies so an oncoming buggy would know how far to move over to safely pass.
The kerosene side lamps on my '05 Maxwell have bail handles, and may easily be removed to work on the engine or find your way from the barn. Headlamps were an option, as was a windshield and top.
Interesting discussion. Makes me wonder if there were laws like that in my city and how long those laws stayed on the books. It could still be the law in some form if you consider what could happen if you parked on a rural road with no lights at all. Ford kept supplying those lamps all the way through production on many but not all Model Ts. I would imagine they were required on the non starter cars because there was no battery and therefore no lights at all once the engine was off. I'm sure Henry would have deleted them if he could because the lamps look like one of the more expensive parts on the car.
I don't know about Canadian laws, however early on (1904) it looks as though British law required sidelamps (at least on the street side) with a white light forward and red light to the rear. I assume Commonwealth countries adopted similar laws (but don't know):
Thanks Rob. I also read paragraph 5. I'm glad I don't have solid tires!
I do believe that at this time distance, from the development from horse and buggy to motoring, we forget what the night time countryside was like back then. Larger towns might have coal-gas lighting in the streets, and some might have carbon-arc lamps, but once away from them the countryside was dark, very dark unless there was a moon.
Under those circumstances a candle half a mile away would have been easy to see. A kerosene lamp in your hand could allow a walker to safely negotiate a path. In other words, people were used to managing with low light. Acetylene headlamps, in those conditions, become absolutely blinding.
In most towns, the ambient lighting was quite sufficient for normal driving, but side-lamps helped others to see that a vehicle was moving. Then, as previously mentioned, there was the use as marker lights for when parked.
Two views of the Earth.
In the early 1970's, I asked an oldtimer from Missouri about this very issue: What use were the side lights on cars until the late 1920's, when they generally fell out of use? He said that in the early part of the century many people did not yet have true garages or driveways to park their cars overnight. Barns, yes, but they were generally quite a ways from the house or were too full of farm equipment to make room for a car. So, people parked their cars in front of their houses on the street. A law was passed that required such cars to keep one or two lights on all night so that other vehicles (cars and horsedrawn) would see the parked car in the darkness in absence of street lights. Operating kerosene lights was cheap and efficient to do this, as the idea was the same principle as what lighted non-electric or gas houses for many years prior. The parking (note the name!) lights would burn from sunset to sunup for pennies and make the road "safe" for other vehicles, all while complying with the law.
I suspect such laws were finally taken off the books once battery-operated lights became standard and people had become accustomed to parked cars on streets. Also, except for very small towns, by the late 1920's/early 1930's electric street lights were more common than uncommon, obviating the need to illuminate one's parked car.
His explanation made sense to me. After all, he was there back then and probably asked the same question of adults with cars as I did of him.
Here is the current regulation in Michigan:
Parked vehicles; lighting.
Whenever a vehicle is parked or stopped upon a highway whether attended or unattended during the times mentioned in section 684, there shall be displayed upon the left side of such vehicle 1 or more lamps projecting a white or amber light visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of 500 feet to the front of such vehicle and projecting a red light visible under like conditions from a distance of 500 feet to the rear, except that local authorities may provide by ordinance that no lights need be displayed upon any such vehicle when parked in accordance with local ordinances upon a highway where there is sufficient light to reveal any person within a distance of 500 feet upon such highway.
Rendered Tuesday, July 8, 2014 Page 4 Michigan Compiled Laws Complete Through PA 192 & includes
Just stumbled across this discussion I'd completely forgotten on this subject. The dimmer is from the mid twenties so this problem must have lasted at least a decade or more.