Birth of The Traffic Signal – 8/5/1914

US History |

Up until 1914, getting around town wasn’t exactly an easy thing to do. In fact, it was a strenuous task that not many would make unless they absolutely had to. On this day, August 5th, in 1914, a lot of that changed when the first electric traffic signal was introduced and set up. 

Up until this point, traffic was terrible. Now-a-days, we’ve limited the streets (or at least the majority of the street) to just automobiles. Pedestrians, bicyclists and just about anything else are kept to the side of the streets. Back in 1914, the streets were compiled of all of these different types of transportation and they were all battling for the meat of the road. This made it hard to get around and also made accidents and injuries that were related to this skyrocket.

This traffic and street problem was mostly helped out when horse-drawn carriages saw themselves decline with the incline of the automobile. However, the streets were still unsafe, especially at corners and four-way stops. Before World War I, this had become a major concern and it was pretty obvious that we needed to do something about it, whether it was changing the roads or changing the rules.

They started to make improvements to the system in 1907, when the first traffic island was set up in San Francisco, California. One year later, left-hand driving become an American standard in vehicles. In 1911, Michigan debuted a divided street, when they introduced the painted center line on roads. This helped keep traffic going one way. Five years later, the first “No Left Turn” sign was placed in Buffalo, New York.

The biggest accomplishment and improvement they’ve made to the road system and traffic stopper was the electric traffic signal. Early signs of this were shown when people invented similar stuff, like the one with two arms that extended horizontally and vertically, signaling Go and Stop. The next improvement was when a police officer put a box on top of a pole with two colors, Green and Red, which signaled Go and Stop.

No one is completely sure where this idea originated. However, the T-shaped design that has popularized was introduced and patented in 1923 by a man named Garrett Morgan, who later sold the idea to General Electric. 

However, the first electric signal that was put up was set in Cleveland on August 5, 1914. Widely viewed as the FIRST electric traffic signal and in an article, it read that the “system is, perhaps, destined to revolutionize the handling of traffic in congested city streets and should be seriously considered by traffic committees for general adoption.”

Today, we would be lost without the electric traffic signal. You can find them pretty much every 200 feet in the world and help keep streets safe with all of the vehicles and transportation we have on those streets. This is one of the most important safety-related inventions we’ve come up with regarding traffic. Thank you to whoever had the smarts to put this one together. 

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Mike Sexton

Chief Editor

I have always had a passion for writing since a young age and can still remember the first time a teacher assigned us to create our own newspaper it was my favorite project. In high school I wrote for the school newspaper and loved learning about new topics. I knew I found my new passion and as soon as I stepped foot on UCLA my mind was made up. Since getting my degree I have done all types of writing and love the freedom it gives me to work from anywhere. I hope you all love my writing as I am excited to produce quality articles each day for you!