You know those announcements that warn you when a moving sidewalk is about to come to an end? I’ve always found them odd. I mean, we all know how to use moving sidewalks, right? Of course, there’s probably a lot of people these days who are staring at their phones instead of the world around them. But that aside, it’s always seemed unnecessary to have so many warnings that the sidewalk is about to end.
The announcements also make me chuckle though, because they remind me of an anecdote I read years ago about the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. Today we see moving sidewalks everywhere from subway stations to malls. But back then, moving sidewalks were a novelty. They’d only premiered 7 years before, at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. So for most people at the Parisian fair, this was their very first time seeing a moving sidewalk, let alone riding one. And apparently, a lot of them managed to fall over. At the end, during the ride- they just weren’t sure how to handle the whole the-ground-is-moving thing. So for them, announcements and signage warning them about how to use the sidewalk were quite necessary.
In the early 20th century, the concept of an automated moving system was rather thrilling. The sidewalk drew large crowds, and a lot of media attention. In fact, there were all sorts of proposals to construct city-wide sidewalks that would turn the technology into a mode of public transit. Of course, we all know that didn’t happen (though I wouldn’t oppose escalators built into the hills of San Francisco!) But to the people at the fair it was a beautiful and exciting dream.
One more moving-apparatus fun fact while we’re at it, courtesy of a book I read on early U.S. department stores. When escalators were first installed in stores in the 19th century, shoppers weren’t quite sure how to use them. They soon got the hang of ascending via escalator- but were a bit more afraid of descending. So they’d take the escalator up, and the stairs down! At least they let the machine do the hard work.
Check out this awesome footage of the 1900 moving sidewalk (or as i was known then, “le troittoir roulant”: