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Law and Order: 1918

New York. May 16, 1918. "Police machine gun." 5x7 glass neg. View full size.

New York. May 16, 1918. "Police machine gun." 5x7 glass neg. View full size.


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Red Scare

Actually there was an earlier "Red Scare" which ran from 1917 to 1920. As a Teaching Assistant in gradual school (25 years ago) I lectured on this subject. This earlier Red Scare was involved with the fear of a Bolshevik-like revolution being imported into America. Fifth Columnists were seen almost under every rock. Union organizers, socialist activists, civil rights proponents, suffragettes, pacifists, Jewish immigrants, German Immigrants, and anyone remotely critical of the government were all suspects.

Throttle Grip

The idea that Indians used left hand throttles so the cops could shoot while riding ia a myth. There was no standardization of controls back then. Indian used a left hand throttle because that's the way they always did it. Harleys used a right hand throttle and just as many police departments used them as those that preferred Indians. The Hollywood image of a cop, riding at breakneck speed on his bike, guns ablazin', is silly.

Tool bag

I was looking at an Indian Big Twin at a motorcycle museum and if memory servers, that's the tool bag on top of the tank.



Cash box?

Any idea what the little "treasure chest" on top of/attached to the gas tanks is for?

I'd give a mint for one of those

I wonder if a version of this contraption sits in a museum anywhere? This is a pretty radical law enforcement solution even back in those "uncivilized" days... Maybe it was related to the end of WWI? What might be the legitimate reason for arming motorcycle guys with something like this?

[See the newspaper clipping below. - Dave]

The whole setup seems a bit unwieldy however and machine guns are notoriously inaccurate in an ideal staging. This would be especially true when you're on a bouncy motorcycle sidecar on 1918 city streets possible getting shot at by somebody while the scared driver swerves wildly to avoid bullets. I prefer the M203 version with my Harley!

Manhole cover

For some reason, I continue to be impressed that the manhole covers from a century or more ago look essentially the same as those today. So many other practical things are very different from today, but not those.

Must have!

This is the most useful motorcycle accessory I've ever seen. Every bike should have one.

The Canned Ham

That lump in the background officer's coat is his sidearm, most likely a revolver in a full-flap holster. As per the earlier photo of the lady traffic cop:

Right handed

Indian motorcycles' twist-grip throttle was on the left side. Because most people are right-handed the cops could shoot and ride.

Shoe fetish

O.K. I admit it. One of my favorite things about this blog and the photos are the fab boots and shoes these folks were wearing.


Put these guys on a ship, and dare the pirates to even look like they're going to board.

Stuffed Shirt

What is that jammed into the jacket of the cop walking behind the motorcycle? A very low-slung bulletproof vest? A canned ham? Half of a skateboard? Please, someone tell me there's an explanation.

Indian Motorcycles

The Indian Brand has once again been resurrected in 2009. They're being built in North Carolina and they're a pretty sweet looking ride, but time will tell if it's a successful reboot of the brand.

Firepower, candlepower

I hope they did their shooting in the daytime. That kerosene headlamp wouldn't have been have been much good at night. Other interesting features of the Indian include an extremely primitive speedometer running off the front wheel hub (it looks like an afterthought), and an exposed clutch, just behind the driver's boot.

There was an attempt to revive the Indian brand in California in the 1990's, but the company went under after making just a few bikes... based on much later models than this one, of course.

Colt-Browning Tater Digger

A Choice

I think the Indian motorcycle is more interesting than the machine gun. However the gunner appears to be very focused, almost like he's looking for an excuse to fire.


I can only imagine the kick that monster would inflict on the rider and the sidecar!

Two things.

One, they better get some earplugs.
Two, I need one of those on my motorcycle. Believe me.

After WWI

I think "Tipster" is referring to the Red Scare in this country as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. This photo was taken before that occurred.

They're not so tough

Just wait till they meet up with The Rat Patrol!


The machine gun is mounted on a sidecar, right? The tripod looks a little tall, the machine gunner will have to stand to use the sights.

But you know when the policeman says "pull over," you better do it quick!

Third Liberty Loan

Check out the poster in the background.

Potato Digger

I think that is an 1895 Browning "potato digger"

Red Scare

This was at the height of Red Scare when it seemed to certain Justice Dept. people that the Bolsheviks were going to try to take over America next.

[The Red Scare was in the 1940s and 1950s. What prompted this was the outbreak of World War I and fears of German saboteurs. - Dave]


Why did this police department need such heavy firepower? At first, I thought, "bootleggers!," but Prohibition didn't start until the following year.

RoboCop, 1918 Style

I'll bet those unruly crowds dispersed in a heartbeat when THAT came buzzing around the corner!

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