At some point, the joy one of our ancestors, let’s call him Thag, experienced at inventing the dugout canoe gave way to disappointment. Realization set in that his invention was just a log with a space for a rider. It was functional, but definitely not sexy. It didn’t look fast. Flash forward 1400 years and change locations to a shipyard in Europe where a master builder has just completed the finishing touches on what he knows will be the fastest ship to sail the seas. Still, it’s not complete until the figurehead goes on. It’s the element of the ship, placed at a rakish angle on the bow that catches the eyes of passersby as she sits in the harbor.
On land it took a while for a variation of the figurehead to catch on. Conestoga wagons, stagecoaches, and buggies didn’t go fast enough to warrant any kind of acknowledgement that they were rapid transportation. Eventually the automobile came into production and I suspect the designers of the first autos experienced the same disappointment as Thag and the shipbuilder. Their version of the masthead came in the form of radiator caps and hood ornaments that made their products look fast while sitting still. To accomplish this they used running dogs, rockets, unnamed superheroes, birds, and the occasional filmily clad young lady whose garments were wafting in the breeze. As if being placed on the most prominent part of the auto wasn't enough, all these decorative elements were chromed make them more conspicuous. Obviously they didn't have to contend with automated car washes back then.