1911 LAPD: A Leader in Technology … Well, Sort Of

In 1911, the Los Angeles Times warned “Lawbreakers Beware” as the Los Angeles Police Department was at again. You see, LAPD loves technology—whatever it takes to get one-up on the bad guys. Seemingly always outnumbered, the department of 1911 had to be inventive; so as they would throughout their history, its leaders instinctively turned to technology.

An LAPD officer trying out the "Power Skates."

An LAPD officer trying out the “Power Skates.”

With the benefit of cutting-edge devices, the modern LAPD patrolled the entire city in the early 20th century using automobiles and motorcycles, leaving the old, dependable foot beat cop in the dust. The new machinery only seemed to emphasize the slowness of patrolmen. But the street-smart cop was not about to fade away like his four-legged friends.

So when a local citizen came to then Chief Charles Sebastian (1911-1915) with an invention to literally propel the foot beat cop as fast as those in the new automobile, the chief quickly ordered a field trial of what Mr. Herbert Chamberlin termed his “Power Skates.” According to his design, these specially created skates would allow properly equipped foot beat officers to “speed past” their motorized colleagues. There were two types of these skates: One had two wheels and was a “high-speed” design that would allow the cop to reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour; the other had four wheels for each skate and was for regular, slower foot beat duty. The skates were propelled by the weight of the officer stepping forward as if walking; a worm gear “commuting the vertical to circular motion” drove the officer forward—or so it was promised.

As history would have it, the “Power Skates” were not approved, possibly saving hundreds of days of lost time from injuries—as the one big drawback of the design was clear: no brakes!

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