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On This Date: The World’s First Traffic Jam

Traffic jams are just an annoying part of our driving experience. If you live in major cities, you might find yourself gridlocks on major roads, and if you live in smaller cities you can’t escape them either. While it is weird to think of a time where cars weren’t a part of our everyday life, but back when cars and major roadways were quickly growing in popularity, the world got to experience its first-ever traffic jam. That’s right, on this day, November 11th, almost 100 years ago in 1921, marks the date of the first recorded traffic jam in history.

World’s First Traffic Jam

The first traffic jam ever recorded happened in Washington, DC, which really isn’t that surprising. The incident left a reported 3,000 cars stuck on the road for as long as 3 hours, according to 365 Days of Motoring. While traffic jams could be annoying, and this was the first of what would be surely hundreds of thousands over the next hundred years, at least the reason means something for this day in time.

Cars slowly move along a bridge in traffic jam in central Moscow on December 11, 2018 | YURI KADOBNOV/AFP, Getty Images

What caused it?

You probably recognize November 11th as being an important day for the entire country, Veterans Day. So it seems fitting that the traffic jam had to do with a fallen soldier. A processional of world leaders begun in Washington DC at the US Capitol, including our own President Warren G Harding. This is part of a bigger story you might already know, actually. The processional was on its way to Arlington National Cemetery to bury the Unknown Soldier.

Old decals in window of car
Decals for “Ashbury Park”,an American Flag and “Atlantic City” on car window | Vernon Merritt III/The LIFE Picture Collection, Getty Images

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Traffic jams in modern-day

Like in every other traffic jam, cars were forced to stop, with little way to getaway. The fields surrounding Arlington National Cemetery were full of cars, leaving drivers stuck on the road for several hours. While it was only the first-ever official traffic jam, and considering the conditions of the traffic jam it only makes sense that it would happen on none other than Veterans Day.

A traffic jam seen from a rear-view mirror
A traffic jam is reflecting in a mirror | Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

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While it was only the first of many traffic jams, this one couldn’t have had better timing. Could you imagine being stuck in traffic for 3 hours almost 100 years ago when cell phones didn’t exist?