“Rush hour” was named because people rush out of their homes to their workplaces in the morning, or out of their workplaces to their homes in the late afternoon. Traffic is usually at its most congested during the morning and afternoon rush hours. “Why is it called ‘rush hour’ when your car barely moves?” is a standard joke.
“Why is it called ‘rush hour’ when traffic is at a standstill?” was cited in print in 1957. The line became a frequent newspaper comic strip caption in the 1970s.
11 November 1957, Hammond (IN) Times, pg. 10, col. 7:
Why is it called “rush hour” when traffic is at a standstill?
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22 June 1959, Milwaukee (WI) Sentinel, “Bud Herzog, Man About Milwaukee,” pt. 1, pg. 11, col. 1:
POPULAR EXPRESSIONS are sometimes misleading. They call it rush hour traffic around 5 o’clock when you sit in your car for 20 minutes waiting for traffic to move six feet!
4 May 1960, Greensboro (NC) Record, “Little Liz” comic strip, pg. A11, col. 1:
You often wonder why they call it rush hour when the traffic is almost at a standstill.
3 June 1974, Aberdeen (SD) American News, “The Better Half” comic strip by Barnes, pg. 5, col. 1:
“How can they call it RUSH hour? We’ve been sitting in one spot for 15 minutes!”
8 April 1975, Seattle (WA) Times, “Wee Women” comic strip, pg. A4, col. 4:
“Why do they call it rush-hour traffic? You don’t rush, you crawl.”
27 April 1977, Register-Republic (Rockford, IL), Earl Wilson syndicated entertainment column, pg. C8, col. 5:
WISH I’D SAID THAT: Second Ave. Deli’s Abe Lebewohl wonders why they call it rush hour traffic when that’s the time traffic is at a standstill.
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4 June 1984, Altus (OK) Times, “Barbs,” pg. 4, col. 8:
After spending 15 minutes traveling 10 yards, one question: Why do they call It “rush” hour?
December 1991, Boys’ Life, “Think & Grin,” pg. 81, col. 3:
Pedro’s ponderment of the month: “Why do they call it rush hour when no one moves?” — Barry Marple II, Virginia Beach, Va.
30 August 1998, Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram, Texas, pg. 1:
Why’s it called Rush Hour when it moves sooooo slowly?
13 September 1998, Los Angeles (CA) Times, ‘Rush Hour,” Metro, pg. 20:
Why is rush hour called rush hour when no one appears to be moving?
17 December 1998, TimesDaily (Northwest Alabama), “List of hypothetical questions amusing” by Ann Landers, pg. 2C, col. 2:
Why is it called “rush hour” when your car barely moves?
December 2008, Boys’ Life, “Think & Grin,” pg. 60, col. 3:
Warped Wiseman wonders: “Why is it called rush hour when no one moves?”
Morgan Johnson, Underwood, Minn.
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Why do they call it rush hour when nothing moves?