Speed limits are set by the legislative body of the respective country, or in the case of the US the respective states. The first speed limit ever was in the UK in 1861; the limit was set at 10 mph. Speed limits are set in an effort to prevent fatal accidents and vehicle collisions on roads. In the US the speed limit is monitored by the Federal Highway Administration.
State and local governments control the speed limit, which is why limits sometimes have minor variations state to state. Traffic engineers set speed limits and other rules to reflect the behavior of the driving majority. (If the highway speed limit were set to 50, no one would follow it and then intent of the law would be somewhat cheapened.)
The first speed limit was 10mph, introduced in the UK in 1861.
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