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The Cop Who Gave Ulysses S. Grant a Speeding Ticket

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If President Grant were alive today, he’d probably have quite a few points on his license by now. 

Pennsylvania Avenue had never seen an equestrian quite like him before. At West Point, Grant’s skill in the saddle wowed his peers and instructors alike. “In horsemanship,” said James Longstreet (a classmate and future Confederate general), “…he was noted as the most proficient in the Academy. In fact, rider and horse held together like the fabled centaur.” 

Rowdy steeds didn’t frighten the 18th president. On the contrary, Grant rather liked breaking them in. According to his son, Fredrick, he “preferred to ride the most unmanageable mount, the largest and most powerful one. Oftentimes I saw him ride a beast that none had approached.”

Yet, masterful as he was, nobody would mistake Grant for the world’s safest driver. In 1866, his reputation in this department took a serious hit. One newspaper claimed that, at a New York City political event, the General instigated—and won—a high-speed coach race through Central Park. He soon dismissed this story as being “almost without foundation.” True, the future President had been asked to take the reins. But, in Grant’s words, there was “no fast driving or talk of it.” 

He couldn’t wave away another, more infamous incident, however. During his tenure in the Oval Office, a slew of accidents forced D.C. authorities to start cracking down on speeders. For policeman William West, the last straw came when a horrible accident took place on his block. “[A] woman with a 6-year-old child had been seriously injured on West’s corner by a driver of fast horses,” The Washington Post explained. 

The very next day, West caught Grant’s buggy booking it at “a furious pace” past the corner of M and 13th Streets. America’s top elected official was almost immediately pulled over. 

“Mister President,” said West, “I want to tell you that you were violating the law by driving at reckless speed. Your fast driving, sir, has set the example for a lot of other gentlemen. It is endangering the lives of the people who have to cross the street in this locality. Only this evening a lady was knocked down by one of the racing teams.” Duly reprimanded, Grant apologized and promised that it wouldn’t happen again. 

Less than twenty-four hours later, it did. 

West again caught the Commander in Chief flying at breakneck speed over the same stretch of road. “Do you think, officer, that I was violating the speed laws?” asked Grant.

“I certainly do, Mr. President,” replied West. After reminding Grant of his broken vow, he added, “I am very sorry, Mr. President, to have to do it, for you are the nation’s chief executive, but my duty is plain, sir: I shall have to place you under arrest!”

Grant's exact response has been lost to history—though many claim that he reacted admirably, encouraging West to “Do your duty, my good man.” West escorted him to the police station, where the leader who had helped win the Civil War was swiftly booked and fined.   

Fortunately, there were no hard feelings on either man's part. A fellow horse-lover, West ultimately befriended the president. The pair would often get together and, during one of their many chats, the lawman made an awkward admission: before joining the force, he’d been a speed demon himself. 

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History
A Brief History of Time
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You may have heard that time is a social construct, but that doesn’t stop it from having consequences in the real world. If you show up to a party 10 minutes before it’s scheduled to start, you’ll likely be the first one there, and if you arrive to an interview 10 minutes late, you likely won’t get the job. But how did humanity agree on when and how to observe certain times of day?

In their new video, the It’s Okay to Be Smart team explains how humans “invented” the modern concept of time. The increments we use to measure time, like seconds, minutes, and hours, come from the ancient civilizations of the Egyptians and the Babylonians. Early clocks, like sundials and water clocks, were pretty crude, so people couldn’t pinpoint a time like noon down to the second even if they wanted to. But as clocks became more accurate, the problem wasn’t being unable to tell time accurately, but deciding which clocks qualified as “accurate” in the first place.

In 1884, President Chester A. Arthur organized the International Meridian Conference with the intention of deciding on a uniform definition of time to be followed around the world. The attendees ended up choosing the meridian running through Greenwich, England as the official Prime Meridian, and all clocks would be measured against the clock in the town’s observatory. Greenwich Mean Time is still used as the standard world time today.

Check out the full story below.

[h/t It’s Okay to Be Smart]

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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