April 1, 1967 – USDOT Opens for Business
Although the law creating a new U.S. Department of Transportation was enacted on October 15, 1966, the transfer of sundry agencies and personnel was going to take time. Section 15 of the act allowed the President to set the effective date of the law by executive order (or 90 days after the Secretary first took office, whichever was earlier). The first Secretary, Alan Boyd, took office on January 16, 1967, but President Johnson issued Executive Order 11340 to set the effective date a little early – April 1, 1967.
The Department did not yet have its own building – instead, it would begin its existence using three floors of the new Federal Aviation Administration building that had opened in 1963 (along with scattered other facilities). The FAA building, then and now, is located cater-corner from the headquarters of the Smithsonian, and the Smithsonian co-hosted DOT’s opening day ceremonies on the Mall (to coincide with the start of the Smithsonian’s extended spring hours).
In 1967 (as in 2017), April 1 fell on a Saturday, and DOT and the Smithsonian hosted a day-long celebration of transportation on the Mall. According to a Washington Post article the following day, Boyd spent much of the afternoon “wandering around the Mall riding in things,” which included:
- A hot air balloon flown by famous balloonist Don Piccard (scion of the family of explorers for whom the captain in Star Trek: The Next Generation was reportedly named);
- A 15-passenger, mule-drawn “omnibus” built in 1880 (trivia: the use of the word “bus” as a noun describing a vehicle derives from the word omnibus in its original noun usage, dating back to 1820’s England, meaning a “four-wheeled public vehicle with seats for passengers”); and
- A hovercraft built by Bell Aerosystems. (No word whether or not it was full of eels.)
The piece-de-resistance, naturally, was a man with a jetpack (again built by Bell). Boyd did not fly this one, but it was flown around by Mall by pilot Bill Suitor, the same guy who had flown the jetpack in the movie Thunderball two years earlier.
(Don’t forget to check out Eno’s full Documentary History of the Creation of the U.S. Department of Transportation.)