As Google celebrates 101 years of the electric traffic signal with an illustration by Nate Swinehart (animated black and white Model T Ford cars spell “G-O-O-G-L-E” at a traffic signal) of the world’s first electric traffic light installed at Cleveland, Ohio, on August 5 1914, let’s take a look at the origins and timeline of the traffic signal as we know it today.
- 1868 – First Non-electric, gas-operated Traffic Lights invented by railway engineer JP Knight were installed outside the Houses of Parliament in London. These were manually operated by the policemen to control traffic on Bridge Street, Great George Street and Parliament Street. The experiment ended in 1869 when an explosion, caused due to a gas leak, killed the officer operating the lights.
- 1912 – Lester Wire, earlier a detective in Salt Lake City, Utah came up with the idea for the first red and green electronic traffic lights by attaching wires to overhead trolley and light cables and hanging wooden boxes with red and green lights from it.
- 1914 – The American Traffic Signal Company four pairs of red and green lights (stop –go) each mounted on a post on the corner of East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. The lights were controlled via a manual switch
- 1918 – Bells were added to alert people when the lights changed and then, in New York, came the three – red, amber, green – lights we know today
- 1922 – Garrett Morgan from Ohio applied for a patent for a human-operated, crank-based traffic control device to minimize road accidents. The T-shaped invention did not materialize at the time because of the city’s reluctance to invest in man-power which would be costlier compared to an electric system.
- 1990 – Countdown timers came into being for the pedestrians.
- 1998 – 8 meter tall Traffic Light Tree by French sculptor Pierre Vivant in London with 75 sets of lights; it is now a tourist spot
Today most countries around the world rely on a sophisticated system of traffic lights that still follow the basic design. So here’s to many years of pedestrian and motorist safety, thanks to the Traffic Signal.