Traffic jams

Traffic jams

  • The sovereigns.

    ROUBILLE Auguste (1872 - 1955)

  • The return to the XVIIIe century.

    CELOS E.

  • The recalcitrant cow.

    REDON Georges (1869 - 1943)

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

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Title: The return to the XVIIIe century.

Author : CELOS E. (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Color engraving

Storage location: National museums and domain of Compiègne website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Picture reference: 99-006008 / CMV3347

The return to the XVIIIe century.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: The recalcitrant cow.

Author : REDON Georges (1869 - 1943)

Creation date : 1903

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Colored lithograph

Storage location: National museums and domain of Compiègne website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 99-006021 / CMV1665

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: September 2005

Historical context

The difficulties and nuisances of traffic in big cities are not a specific problem in our time. 140) already underlined the fatal risks a pedestrian ran in the muddy and congested streets of Rome, whereas in Ier century BC, Julius Caesar had promulgated an ordinance banning wagons at night in the capital of the Roman Empire to suppress nighttime nuisances. In the XVIIe century, the embarrassments of Paris nourished the inspiration of poets. "Coaches, horses and great noise, this is Paris", wrote Paul Scarron (1610-1660). Thus, it was thanks to a traffic jam that Ravaillac succeeded in assassinating King Henri IV in his coach on May 14, 1610, rue de la Ferronnerie.

Contemporary of Boileau, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) tried to remedy the traffic difficulties in Paris by developing inexpensive public transport: in 1662, with his friend the Duke of Roannez, he founded a company of public coaches, the “ coaches with five floors ”, which were very successful but whose access was forbidden to“ soldiers, pages, lackeys and other henchmen ”. The most complete anarchy therefore continued to reign in the capital where the unfortunate pedestrians tried to make their way through the congestion of carts, handcarts, litters, "vinaigrettes", coaches and other cabs, and in the crashing noise of horse-drawn omnibuses then automobiles, horse-drawn, steam or electric trams. At the end of the XIXe century, and despite the progress in traffic resulting from the Haussmannization of Paris and large cities, the coexistence of traditional horse-drawn transport means with the first automobiles further contributed to increasing traffic difficulties.

Image Analysis

The traffic jams very early on fed the inspiration of writers and, from the end of the XIXe century, they are a favorite theme for caricaturists, painters and lithographers.

Auguste Roubille's engraving entitled "Les Souverains" thus represents illustrious motorists caught in a traffic jam. We can recognize among these the Kings Leopold II of Belgium, Edward VII of England or the Shah of Persia. They stand proudly in their expensive open-top cars, which move very slowly, giving off foul-smelling fumes. The best way to squeeze through these clutters is still, as Tsar Nicholas II does, to take the motorcycle, which moves with ease in the foreground.

Celos' caricature, for its part, is based on an anachronism. An early 20th century automobilee century bursts into an 18th century urban settinge century and sows panic among the townspeople. It is the clash of two worlds: that of the internal combustion engine and that of the sedan chair. With their faces eaten up by heavy goggles, the occupants of the automobile seem to come from another planet, compared to the lackeys in livery and the noble lady with the powdered hairstyle.

Georges Redon's humorous lithograph also opposes two worlds, contemporary to each other this time, but apparently antagonistic: technology and its rapid progress at the start of the 20th century.e century, and a rural world that obeys the slow rhythms of nature. The motor cart, driven by an inattentive driver, is thrown at high speed and hits a cow stuck in the middle of the road, which stubbornly refuses to budge despite the efforts of its mistress who pulls it. The striking contrast between the surrealist attire of the occupants of the vehicle and the crude simplicity of the peasant woman's costume further accentuates the opposition between these two worlds.


Without going back to Antiquity where there were already rules of circulation, the sovereigns enacted texts like this Letter patent on circulation signed by Henry IV in 1607. From 1607 to 1851, many were the decrees and ordinances which regulated it from near or far. The law of May 30, 1851 on the traffic and public messaging police as well as the first rules relating to crossing and overtaking vehicles, dated August 10, 1852, can be considered as the ancestors of our highway code.

The last to appear on the public highway, automobiles caused a hostile feeling: they were held responsible for all traffic jams and all accidents. The decree of March 10, 1899 was the first to regulate the circulation of automobiles by limiting their speed to 20 km / hour in urban areas, to 30 in the countryside. In 1908, the president of the International Tourism Congress suggested "channeling cars on their right in order to avoid double and triple intersections so dangerous for pedestrians". Faced with the repetition of collisions at the crossroads in Paris, the prefect Lépine had priority on the right adopted in 1910 and, in 1922, a first red light was installed at the intersection of the rue de Rivoli and the boulevard de Sébastopol. Around 1907-1908, the General Automobile Association developed road signs to warn drivers of dangers to be aware of. These first panels were fifteen in number and were manufactured and offered by the Michelin firm, which thus carried out a great advertising operation. Nevertheless, it was not until 1949 that a European standardization of road signage came into being, and 1958 so that, in view of the considerable increase in automobile traffic, the highway code which governs us today is put into effect. fit and applied.

  • automobile
  • Belle Epoque
  • innovation
  • road
  • Boileau (Nicolas)


Bertrand GALIMARD FLAVIGNY, "No more than 30 an hour! The beginnings of automobile traffic ”, in Historia, 1984, special number 449 bis The Automobile is 100 years old, 1884-1984.LE CORBUSIER, On the four roads, Paris, Gallimard, 1941 Michel ROCHE, Driving cars, Paris, P.U.F., 1980.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "Traffic jams"

Video: How to Fix Traffic Forever