This Old City Driving Manual is an Amusing Glimpse Into Mid-Century Cincinnati Life


Ohio Book Store’s local-interest shelves contain all manner of marvel. Among them: This 1950s city-issued driving guide, scored for $3. It reads simultaneously as menacing voiceover and mid-century mom: “Did you ever jump off the roof of a 10-story building? Why risk the same fate by driving 60 miles per hour?” (There’s a diagram, too, of cars diving off of increasingly tall buildings.) One thing is certain: Contemporary civic training materials could absolutely use more shoulder-dwelling devils battling it out with angels on their covers. And mustard yellow.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

About that menacing voiceover/mid-century mom thing… On insects: “Remember that it hurts less to get stung than to get maimed.” On a clear windshield: “If an object dangles in front of a driver’s face it’s an invitation to death.” On a newly implemented sign: “Be on the lookout for it. Abide by its rules.”

The images are half the joy of this find—the spots of color (more mustard yellow!) that in places appear handpainted, the stopping distance chart (with period cars) that covers everything from dry concrete to ice with natural vs. synthetic rubber tires, and of course the diagram of hand turn signals, fedora included.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

Before Siri could answer all of life’s questions at the sound of your “Hey,” one had to know things. Like where all city gas stations were located (p. 1); what to do in the case of a flat tire, accident, or fire (p. 14); and why spinning the wheels is on the no list (p. 15).

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