I never expected to enjoy scanning a compilation of city ordinances, but it was fun beginning with Village Ordinance No. 6,
"Animals Running at Large," enacted in 1892, and ending with City Ordinance No. 543, enacted in 1947. It was delightful
running into phrases like "his servant, agent,or employee" and "dental cuspidor" and "manure, shipping."
Then there are rules about selling automobiles on Sunday; using the space between the curb-line and the lot-line; prohibiting
nuisances; disposing of tin cans; establishing a retirement system for city employees; creating/refining a zoning ordinance.
Merely skimming the compilation's index provides the look and feel of those yesteryears. On a more serious note, it is
informative to compare some details between then and now, about topics as different as signs and alcohol control.
Social control of personal behavior
Control of individual behavior leaps out: Immoral Conduct, Indecent Conduct, Indecent Exposure, Insulting Conduct, Intoxication.
And that's only in the I's! Later, I encountered "jostling” and “drunkenness.”
In 1922, there was an ordinance to control “Dance Halls.” Any license granted “may be suspended by the City Manager or
revoked by the City Commission for disorderly or immoral conduct therein” and the facility had to be closed “on or before the
hour of twelve o’clock midnight.”
One 1938 ordinance was enacted to “Regulate and Control the Traffic in Beer and Wine.” No alcohol-serving place “shall be
located within any distance or radius from a home, church, school or public building, which distance or radius is deemed
adverse to the safety, health or public morals.”
Licenses, Library, Retirement
It’s always interesting to compare costs between then and now: In 1914, the annual fee for a license to operate “moving
pictures shows” was $25.00. (Today’s Main Street Art Theatre and Fourth Street Music Theater don’t pay an annual fee.
Each paid $135.00 for a one-time Merchant License.) In 1930, the license fee to install a “Loop-the-loops” was $450.00;
for a “Whoopee coaster,” $300.00. At one point in the index, 41 licenses are named. Sampling the list: Amusements,
Auctioneer, Street Exhibitions, Lunch Wagons, Pool Rooms, Taxicabs, and Transient Tradesmen.
A 1928 ordinance anticipated recycling when it mandated that “in no case shall any tin cans, glass, paper or ashes be
mixed with each other” in trash receptacles. In the late thirties, a sign ordinance specified size and weight and required
that all signs be “well supported, braced and secured to the building.” It goes on to mention “banner signs” and “billboards,” but I
found no mention of sandwich signs or sidewalk signs.
An Employees’ Retirement System was set up in 1943. The ordinance created the conventional structure for maintaining
the system, including a Board of Trustees. The revenue requirements are defined: “The City shall make contributions to this
system by means of annual appropriations of amounts which together with the contributions of the participants, the income
on investments and other income will be necessary . . . “Employees were to make “normal contributions to the system of four
per cent (4%) of each payment of earnings applicable to employment . . . “ The Library Ordinance was amended in 1945.
The ordinance gave the City Commission the authority to raise funds for a “Library Building Fund” separate from the
“Library Fund.” To serve as a trustee a resident had to be a U.S. citizen. The City was to maintain the Library for the use and
benefit of “inhabitants and freeholders” of the City.
Some things change. Some stay the same.
The Curator and one of the founding members of the Royal Oak Historical Society Museum.