An Entertaining & Informative Vintage Automobile Internet Magazine

Leather-Lunged Officer Controls Traffic at Woodward and Grand in Detroit

In the past we have learned that an announcer using a hand-held megaphone at a Vanderbilt Cup Race was referred to as being “leather-lunged”. This 1920s “Detroit News” photo contains a “Motor City” Traffic Police officer who apparently was cut from the same cloth as the race commentator when it came to his ability of using a megaphone to direct traffic.

One-hundred years later in an era where traffic signals are computerized or a police officer directs traffic from the center of an intersection this scene looks almost comical. Over the din of rush hour traffic at the intersection of Grand Blvd. and Woodward Ave. a Detroit Police Traffic Officer in a elaborate elevated traffic control booth appears to be barking out commands through a megaphone to those below him on the street level. We assume that he may have been sending commands to another Officer on the street below him or directly to the drivers of the stopped vehicles waiting to turn left.

Please share with us what you find of interest in this photograph courtesy of the Wayne State University Archives.



21 responses to “Leather-Lunged Officer Controls Traffic at Woodward and Grand in Detroit

  1. Before the advent of electric sound systems, most very large churches elevated the pulpit eight or ten feet. The idea was to allow the priest/pastor to be able to project more easily to the back of the room. I wonder if the same thinking went into the crow’s-nest traffic platform.

    • I’m inclined to think the megaphone was of very limited utility, especially given the noise from the surrounding traffic. The elevated control booth was probably meant to give the control officer a better idea of the traffic volume in each direction, allowing him/her to prioritize movement authorization with the signals…top and bottom. Even today with every imaginable technical device at their disposal, air traffic controllers, working in elevated towers, still have the advantage of visually assuring things go well. Ditto for some railroad employees. One has to admire the courage of the pedestrians crossing the street.

  2. I hope his perch is sturdy enough to withstand bumps and jostles from inattentive drivers or people on their cell phones. It looks very vulnerable to me.

  3. Newest cars appear to be ’24, maybe ’25. Several cars look to be about 1920, a few could be as early as ’18. The three cars front and center preparing to turn left away from us appear to be Ford, Chevrolet, and Buick. The Chevy and Buick are among the newest cars present, while the T is a center-door sedan last built in early ’23, and judging by the door handle, could be as early as a ’20. Detail note on the center-door, the ’22 and ’23 had a “latch-lever” to adjust the body windows. The shiny spot in the photo could be that lever and narrow the year identification, or not. It looks too large for the latch, and I cannot see either of the other two I should be able to see at this angle, so I suspect the shiny spot is something else, and the T is a ’20 to early ’22.
    A detail that caught my eye, is that so many cars have bumpers in there! Both front and rear bumpers are far more common here than compared to average for that era. While a few high end cars came standard with front bumpers even before 1915, they really didn’t become popular until about 1925. Many cars continued to be offered without standard bumpers until about ’28. “After-market” bumpers far outnumbered factory options until about ’27, and most of the bumpers clearly seen here are after-market ones. Many cars whether factory option or after-market, had bumpers only on the front. In this photo, most cars that can be seen well enough to tell, have both front and rear bumpers. Even about a third of the model Ts that can be seen well enough, have both front and rear bumpers.
    The reason for all those bumpers, is of course quite obvious!

    A wonderful picture! Thank you David G.

  4. I cannot see modern traffic lights from my Model T without having to lean down. I don’t think any of the cars in this photo were able to see the lights that were set so high. Or the police man for that matter.

  5. Almost looks as the officer is speaking to that pedestrian, he is certainly looking at the cop. The cars turning left, coming at us, are four wide. Are they turning on to a four lane wide road? Can anyone ID those four? The Phaeton looks hi-end as does what it is blocking. Also, the traffic light arrangement on tower top is reversed for the cross street . Looks like a good drag strip… wink.

    • Woodward Avenue has been used as an impromptu, illegal drag strip for a century at least, and for one afternoon in the late 20-teens, a 1/2 mile portion at the south end of Pontiac (the northern terminus of Woodward), just north of South Boulevard, was legally set up and used for drag racing, during the “Woodward Cruise” festival.

  6. in the uk when puchase tax was in force it was advantageous to specify as plain a spec as possible then accessorize,did this happen with sales tax in the USA?

  7. For some unknown reason, the traffic circle or ’roundabout’ never caught on much in the U.S. While not the perfect solution, for a major intersection such as this, better than an officer shouting commands on high to confused motorists over the traffic din.

    Bumper that narrow, if not mounted at a uniform height, gave rise to another woe now long forgotten: locked bumpers when one car’s bumper overrode another in a minor collision.

  8. On the inside lane below the “Terrace” sign there appears to be one newer style sedan. It looks like it has a 1928 type rounded roofline.

  9. The “center door” Ford has a fold up front passenger seat on 3 legs. the single rear leg folds under the seat and the forward ones are in 2 parts upper and lower and fold in the middle. I had the seat with upper half legs but lacked the lower. I had a second set of upper half legs and found another owner with a second set of lower and lacked the uppers. We made the perfect trade!! This car has a strip along the bottom of the windows that fitted over a raised piece on the belt molding preventing rain from entering the body. This and the oval rear window, arched roof , bold “A” pillar, beautifully sculptured cowl were all jettisoned on its replacement at the right of the photo.

  10. “The cars all looked the same.” Similar. But not sad. I would have liked to have been able to say the Buick Model 25 was a Marmon Model 34 (or a Duesenberg Model A) because they all look somewhat similar to today’s eyes, but if we look closely and try to see how people saw almost 100 years ago, they don’t look the same at all. If our eyes could differentiate a Chrysler 200 from a Ford Fusion in 2015, and an old 2017 Audi A7 from a new 2018 A7, despite the fact that some people think they looked the same, so too could car fans “under the light” then.

    AFA the light tower, it looks like it was built of steel-reinforced poured concrete and any car that hit it would have suffered more damage that it could have made.

    And AFA the lights, it looks like they were at both high and low (driver-eye) levels.

    If it’d been a Marmon, I could have said: “Indy winner in 1911” and “Compared to Cadillac, Cunningham, Packard, Peerless and Premier* when introduced in 1916.”

    Or if it had been a Model A, I could have said “Indy 500 winner in 1924, 1925 and 1927” and “Only American car to win French Grand Prix.” When Jimmy Murphy took the checkered flag at Le Mans in 1921, no Frenchmen raised hands or doffed hats. (Like Jay-Z and Beyoncé who rose at the Grammys and sat during the Super Bowl?) Duesenberg’s doubters and detractors were many. Fred and Augie were just Yanks: Rambler/Mason/Maytag. But America’s first production I-8 and OHC in their Model A led to their Model J and SJ that some saw as “The World’s Finest Motor Car.” When some saw a Duesenberg and said it looked the same as a Nash.

    *If you’ve seen a Lincoln Premiere, but not a Premier, see the ACD Museum.

  11. I wonder what the reason is that the lights at the top for one direction are arranged two over one while for the other direction one over two? The policeman’s left arm seems unnaturally large and his “officers” cap looks like it’s nearly a foot tall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *