Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NYC Vintage Image Of The Day: No Spitting! 1896

Back in the gay nineties, spitting was so commonplace on sidewalks and streetcars that health
officials sent out public notices that the deliciously fetching practice could spread lethal diseases, especially tuberculosis, a leading cause of death in crowded, dank neighborhoods.

In 1896, New York became the first city in the nation to outlaw “expectorating,” as the practice was daintily called in the day. Signs went up on public transportation and other spitting hot spots, warning of arrest and a $500 fine. But the new ordinance generated controversy and wasn’t always taken seriously (much like Mayor Bloomberg's non-smoking maxim, although his holds no proof of any public health hazard).

A 1910 New York Times article reported, “In New York, of the 2,513 arrested, 2,099 were convicted, with one of every seven escaping." Total fines reached $1,936.80, an average of less than $1 per fine.

On the other hand, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote in 1896—before New York adopted the law—that not allowing people to spit might be dangerous, suggesting, "No law can be made strong enough to prohibit public expectoration. The health of the individual might often suffer from such restraint." Offering an alternative: "It is easy for the many who must spit to do so in the street instead of on the sidewalk."
Images courtesy Ephermeral New York.