So here’s something pretty nerdy I just did:
I read our city’s ordinance codes from the 1940s cover to cover – all 200+ pages 😂
Don’t be jealous!!
Picked it up to see how different life and times were back in the day, but once I got going I couldn’t put it down… Did you know that it was once illegal in our city to dance from 2am-8am during the week? Or you weren’t allowed to work on Sundays?! Or you’d get fined for spitting on the sidewalk or placing carcasses of dead animals in the street?! I mean – COME ON! If you can’t place a good carcass here and there, where’s the joy in living???!
I’m honestly a bit sad it’s all over… Between the antiquated passages and that beautiful “old book” smell, I was entertained pretty well for a hot minute. Though I did find out there’s an even *earlier* version of the code from the late 1800s, so I may have to focus my energy on tracking that down to continue the party… I bet times were even wilder back then! ;)
For now though, here are some of the more interesting snippets from the 1940s… Along with what happens if you dare mess with the law ;)
We’ll start off with something you may or may not be acquainted with lately – quarantining! Followed by venereal diseases, which hopefully you’re not as acquainted with but if you are, at least you’re not treated as a pariah anymore!
Let’s get to the fun…
For reference, $1.00 in 1940 is worth about $21.16 in today’s dollars, and $100 is worth around $2,116.26.
Quarantine of Contagious and Infectious Diseases — “Immediately upon receipt of the information that any case of smallpox, diphtheria, scarlet fever, scarlatina, measles or other contagious or infectious disease exists in the city, or within one mile thereof, it shall be the duty of the health officer to visit the case and in his discretion establish a strict quarantine or isolation of any or all persons on the premises, or to remove the case to a detention hospital or camp, and quarantine persons remaining for such time, as in his discretion, may be necessary.
He shall report to the superintendent of police the names of all persons violating quarantine and the superintendent shall thereupon cause the arrest and removal to a detention camp of any person disobeying quarantine orders, and upon the discharge of such person from the detention camp, he shall be fined by the police justice not less than $5.00 or more than $25.00.”
(Imagine being arrested or fined for disobeying PUBLIC HEALTH ORDERS?? Covid would have looked a lot differently if measures like these were in play during the first parts of the pandemic, hoo-boy… Could have had our entire national debt paid off from people refusing to wear masks alone!)
Bringing Contagion Into the City — “Any person or persons who, without a permit from the health officer, shall knowingly, bring into the limits of the city any person known or suspected to have smallpox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, or any other severe contagious diseases, or who shall, without such permit, knowingly bring into the city the body of any person having died of smallpox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, or any severe contagious disease, shall be fined not less than $25.00 nor more than $450.00.”
(That’s $500-$9,500 in today’s dollars! Hefty!)
Venereal Diseases — “Syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid are hereby designated as venereal diseases, and are hereby recognized and declared to be contagious, communicable, infectious and dangerous to the public health. The city health officer is hereby given the power, for the purpose of protecting the public health, to quarantine and isolate all cases of venereal diseases prescribed in section 1 of this chapter, when in his opinion they are a menace to the public health and of the citizens of the city.”
Report of Attending Physicians — “All physicians in attendance at any hospital or institution, or who are prescribing for or attending any private patient afflicted with any of said venereal diseases, or any physician having knowledge that any person is suffering from any of said diseases, shall within three days after obtaining such knowledge, report all such cases, giving name, address and occupation of the person to the city health officer.”
(Also applied to druggists, hospitals, sanitariums and other institutions in which patients were being treated for said venereal diseases…)
“Any person, firm or corporation violating any of the provisions of this chapter shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum not to exceed $300 or imprisoned not exceeding 90 days, or both fined and imprisoned at the discretion of the court.”
Spitting on Sidewalks, on Street Crossings or Public Places — “No person shall expectorate on any sidewalk or street crossing or in any church or public building or on the steps or doorways thereof, or the steps or doorways of any store or office building, or on the floor or pavement of any railroad station, or public hall, or other public places. For any violation of this section the offender shall be fined not less than $1.00 or more than $5.00 for each offense.”
(Expectorate – such a great SAT word!)
Carcasses of Dead Animals and Other Offensive Things — “If any person shall place, or cause to be placed, in or on any street, alley, sidewalk, lot or elsewhere within the city limits, the carcasses of any animal or any other thing or matter offensive to the public or liable to become a nuisance, he shall be fined not less than $5.00.”
Stop and Waste Cocks — Not a very interesting section in the least, I just laughed like a teenage boy when I saw “cocks” in there 😂😂 Though I did have to Google what the heck it was, and found out its basically a form of valve used to control the flow of a liquid or gas. Here’s an example of one:
Driving Over a Fire Hose –“It shall be unlawful to drive any vehicle over any fire hose or chemical hose that may be strung or laid by the fire department of the city, within the police jurisdiction of the city. Anyone violating this section shall be fined not less than $5.00 nor more than $10.00 for each offense.”
Parking Meters — “When any vehicle shall be parked in any parking meter zone the owner or operator of said vehicle shall upon entering the parking space, immediately deposit a one cent coin or a five cent coin of the United States in the parking meter adjacent to such zone and the said zone may then be used by such vehicle for the period of time as shown by the parking meter.”
Fine for overstaying: $1.00 if paid within 48 hours, $2.00-$50.00 if paid after 48 hours.
(Love that they specifically say “United States” coin here too, lol… I guess they had problems with people trying to hack it with pesos or other foreign specimens?! One cent got you 12 mins of parking, btw, and five cents got you 60.)
Driving Under Influence of Intoxicants or Drugs — “It shall be unlawful for any person to drive or operate any automobile or other vehicle, car, truck, engine, or train in this city, while under the influence of alcohol, brandy, rum, whiskey, gin, wine, beer, lager beer, ale, porter, stout, or any other liquid, beverage or article containing alcohol or while under the influence of any narcotic drug, or any other self-administered intoxicant or drug, of whatsoever nature.
Any person who violates any provisions of section one of this chapter shall be guilty of misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars, or imprisonment for not less than one month, nor more than six months, either or both in the discretion of the court or jury trying same, for a first offense, and the court may, in its discretion, suspend the sentence during the good behavior of the person convicted.”
Water, Gas and Sewer — The city charged a flat $6.00 a year for water hookup, and then additional fees “per tub and water closet and cooled refrigerating machine with one half horsepower” Haha… They didn’t do metering much back then, except for those suspected of taking advantage of the water supply (though apparently you could manually request to have a meter put in which the city would do on your behalf).
Similar to water hookup, gas was also charged a flat fee per month depending on the cubic feet of your home. For the first 500 cubic feet it costs $0.75, for the next 2,500 – $1.30, and for the next 7,000 – $1.10 (and then continued to go down from there for each additional 1,000 cubic ft). Of interest is that they also charged for “gas operated refrigerators”?! Can’t say I’ve ever known that was a thing!
As for sewer, that service was a flat $2.00 per year per building.
Injuring or Failing to Return Books — “Any person who shall willfully injure any book belonging to such library, or shall willfully fail to return any book belonging to such library, shall be fined not less than one nor more than twenty-five dollars, or shall be committed to jail, in default of payment of said fine, for not less than one, nor more than twenty-five days.”
(You could have gone to jail for not returning your books!!! They did NOT mess around back then!! $1-$25 was $21.00- $525.00 in today’s dollars too, pretty extreme…)
Procedure for Erection — (😂😂😂) “In every case in which the owner of an improved lot in the city shall be desirous of having a new fence erected between his said lot and any improved lot adjoining thereto, and the owner of the said adjoining improved lot shall not agree to pay his share of erecting such fence, the major shall, on application of the party wishing to have a new fence put up, appoint three discreet freeholders of the city to view the premises, and under their hands to say whether a new fence to divide the lots of such parties is necessary or not, and the decision of said freeholders, or a majority of them, shall be binding on the parties. And the party desirous of having the new fence put up may proceed to have it erected, and on the completion thereof, shall recover by warrant, from the owner of the adjoining lot, one-half of the cost of such fence, with the cost of such proceeding: Provided, that the cost of said fence be estimated as a fence formed of good posts and rails, with undressed paling, and not exceeding six feet high.”
(So basically, if your neighbor wanted to build a fence you were on the hook for paying half of it! Which I suppose kinda makes sense since you would also benefit from it, but still…)
Street Walkers — “Street walkers shall be fined not less than five dollars no more than twenty-five dollars, or imprisoned in jail not exceeding thirty days, or both in the discretion of the police justice.”
Solicitation for Immoral Purposes — “Whoever shall invite or entice any person or persons upon any avenue, street, road, highway, alley, open space, public square, or enclosure to accompany, go with, or follow him or her to any place for immoral purposes, or who shall invite or entice any person from any door, window, porch, or portico of any house or building, to enter any house or go with, accompany, or follow him or her to any place whatsoever for immoral purpose shall be punished by a fine of not less than ten dollars and not more than five hundred dollars, or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”
(I wish they would have spelled out what other things they meant by “immoral purposes!” The section only specifically called out prostitution…)
Adultery and Fornication — “If any person commit adultery or fornication he shall be punished by a fine of not less than ten dollars nor more than five hundred dollars, or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”
(There would be quite the number of fines and jail time if this were still around today!)
Indecent or Insulting Language — “Any person convicted of the use of indecent or insulting language to another person, or of making any indecent, insulting, or immoral proposal to any female shall be punished by a fine of not less than five dollars, or imprisonment in the city jail not less than ten days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”
(Also: rap music wouldn’t exist 😎)
Sunday Labor – “If any person on a Sunday be found laboring at any trade or calling, or employ his agents, apprentices or servants in labor or any other business, except in household, or other work of necessity or charity, or in those businesses enumerated in the next following section hereof, or if any person bring into or carry about this city on a Sunday, any fowls, chickens, eggs, fruit, vegetables, meat, or any other thing whatever, for sale or barter, such person shall pay a fine of not less than two nor more than ten dollars.”
(Pretty wild – no one was allowed to work!)
Opening Places of Business on Sunday — “If any person, not being a druggist or operating a diary, confectionery, inn, restaurant, hotel, news agency, filling station, storage or repair garage, or ice plant shall keep his or her store, shop or place of business open on Sunday, at any time of the day, such person shall forfeit and pay five dollars for every offense.”
(Chick-fil-A is the only company I know of these days that deliberately chooses to be shut down on Sundays… Gotta love the reason behind it too: to let employees rest “and worship” if they choose.)
Furnishing Cigarettes or Weapons to Infants Under 16 Years of Age — “If any person sell, barter, give or furnish, or cause to be sold, bartered, given or furnished to any minor under sixteen years of age, cigarettes or tobacco in any form, or pistols, or dirks, or bowie-knives, said person shall be fined not less than five dollars.”
(Had to look up what a “dirk” was – “a short dagger of a kind formerly carried by Scottish Highlanders.” Also, Dirk Nowitzki’s first name :))
Disturbing Religious Meetings – “Any person who shall willfully disturb any assembly of persons met for the worship of God, whether he be in or outside of said assembly, shall be fined for every such offense not less than five dollars nor more than twenty-five dollars, or confined in jail not less than five nor more than thirty days, or both in the discretion of the police justice.”
Dancing — “It shall not be lawful for any person to promote, assist or engage in dancing in any public or private room or hall in the city between the hours of 2 A.M. and 8 A.M. on weekdays, or between midnight on Saturday to midnight on Sunday. Any person violating this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not less than $25.00 no more than $200.00.”
(It’s Footloose up in here before Footloose was even a thing!)
Desecration of Flag — “It shall be a misdemeanor for any person within the said city to willfully desecrate in any manner of the flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia or that of the United States of America, or for any person, other than the owner, his agents, servants, and employees, without the consent of said owner, to remove from buildings said flags in said city or from any street or public place in said city where said flags may be placed, or to mutilate or destroy said flags. Any person guilty of violating the provisions of this section or any of them shall be fined not less than $5.00 nor more than $100.00 or confined in jail not less than five nor more than thirty days, or may be both fined and imprisoned.”
Horses Not to Be Driven Over Six Miles an Hour When Attached to Drays and Carts — “No person shall drive any horse or horses, when attached to any dray, cart or wagon, within the limits of this city, faster than six miles an hour. Every person violating this section shall forfeit and pay two dollars for every offense.”
Fruit-skins on Sidewalks and Floors of Public Halls — “It shall be unlawful for any person to throw fruit-skins or peelings on the sidewalks, or floors of public halls. Any violation of this section shall subject the offender to a fine of not less than two nor more than five dollars.”
(Weirdly I’ve seen people do this in the streets in modern days… I’m guessing they feel it’s okay because it’ll naturally disintegrate, but every time I see it I always brace for someone to cartoon-slip and fall on their ass because of it, haha…)
But there you have it…
Laws of yore to help you for when Jeopardy starts back up again :)
TL;DR: Dancing, fornicating, furnishing cigarettes or weapons to infants, laboring on Sunday, soliciting for immoral purposes, throwing fruit-skins on the floor, injuring or not returning library books, placing carcasses of dead animals in the street, indecent language, driving over a fire hose, expectorating on the sidewalk, and not reporting venereal diseases can all cause you hefty fines and/or jail time.
Different times, different fines!
PS: for more fun time traveling…
- Lessons of Thrift From 1875
- Save Your Dimes, Enjoy Better Times!
- 46 Tips To Save You Time, Money, and Trouble (From The 1950’s)
- How to Get Health, Wealth and Comfort… in 1890
Photo cred: Unseen Histories
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