Early in the decade of the 1930’s, highway safety became an issue of real concern as the number of motorcars on the road climbed each year. It is estimated that in 1930, one in every five Americans owned a car for an estimated total of 24.5 million cars. New car sales in 1930 were estimated at 2.5 million. Top speed for a new car in 1930 was 60mph.
With that growth in the number of cars came an equally large and alarming growth in the number of deaths from car accidents. The November 24, 1931 issue of the Ames Daily Tribune reported on the American Legion meeting where George A. Voth of the Department’s Highway Safety committee spoke. He told the Legionnaires attending the meeting that each year, automobile accidents were claiming the lives of a number of Americans equal to the number of American troops killed in WW I.
The Ames Post undertook two projects to assist in the highway safety program. First they partnered with Psychology Professor A. R. Lauer of ISU on the use of an Iowa Motor Code test to promote knowledge of the Iowa Motor Code. The February 9, 1932 Daily Tribune reported that 32 Legionnaires had taken the test at a Post meeting. The test was 10 minutes in length. Individual’s scores were not kept but the group received their total score, 47 percent correct. The result of the test was that many of those present became much more interested in knowing and understanding the Iowa Motor Code.
The test was offered to any other organization in Ames that wished to give the test to their members. The test was offered at no cost but the Post wished to know how many took the test each time and what the group score was. The Jaycees would be the next to take the test.
The driver’s license law in Iowa was passed in 1931 and the driver’s license test was first administered in 1932. It is up to the reader to decide if there is a connection between the test given by the Ames Post and the first driver’s license test.
The Ames Post connection with police car lights is much clearer. Phil Damon, a member of the Post Highway Safety committee, spent a week in the summer of 1931 with the Michigan state police observing their use of lights on their police cars to assist in stopping motorists and for safety reasons. The Post adopted his suggestion that such lights be created for use on Ames police cars as a test.
The picture shown is the first test of such a light on an Ames Police car. The picture shows Police Chief W. J. Cure pointing to the first light installed on a car with Patrolmen Owen Cox (standing) and John Goosman (in Car) observing. The tests were very successful with a speeding car and a car with a burnt out tail light successfully stopped. Until then the driver being pursued had no way to know if the police were following or another driver with less than honorable intentions.
The first light was made by the city electrician at a cost of $2.50. The test was so successful that as the Daily Tribune stated that "it was expected another light would be made for the other police car".
The Legion committee successfully promoted these lights as a state American Legion highway safety project promoted to posts and police and sheriff departments across Iowa.
In future, whenever you enter the drivers license station or see the flashing lights of a police car on the road, remember that the Ames Post had a strong hand in creation of both, another lasting influence of the Ames American Legion.