The suicide knob (also known as a spinner, Brodie, or necker) is a free-turning ball that’s attached to a steering wheel. Originally designed as an aid to drivers of heavy trucks and other vehicles lacking power steering, the utilitarian devices were embraced in the 1950s by American hot rodders and car enthusiasts, who thought they looked cool. Manufacturers of these auto accessories were soon making them out of sculpted blocks of Bakelite, inlaying others with racing-stripe-like bands of metal, or decorated them with come-hither images of sultry pin-up girls.

The origins of the colorful names of these driver’s aids range from the obvious (spinner) to the apocryphal (Brodie). Since the knobs allow the driver to steer with only one hand, the term necker came about because it leaves one arm free to be wrapped around one’s date in the passenger seat (this was before the era of bucket seats). The suicide moniker may have derived from the notion that the knobs are inherently dangerous (they can catch in a sleeve or whack you in the wrist), which fueled the assumption that they must be illegal (in fact, they are not). The other source for suicide could be a reference to James Brodie (often misspelled Brody), who supposedly jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and lived to tell the tale, an act that most of us would consider suicidal.

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