The Traffic Light.  Some might call it the greatest invention of traffic control.  Others might call it a pain in the @$#.  I call it one of the greatest inventions of traffic control.  I had a LOT of fun researching the history of the traffic light!  Uh-oh, I see an amber light ahead…

In 1920, Detroit, Michigan, police officer, William L. Potts got frustrated at the number of cars that would go zooming through the intersection, on many occasions nearly missing a pedestrian.  He devised a signal that had railroad lights that were: green, amber and red.  He then took an old telegraph pole and put the lights on it.  Needing to have power to make the lights flash, he took electrical wiring and hooked it up to the electrical supply for his house.  That was the first electrical traffic signal that the world knew.  It was installed on the corner of Woodward and Michigan avenues in downtown Detroit.

This is what the first traffic signal looked like: Potts Traffic Light photo courtesy The Henry Ford, Greenfield Village.

Before long, there were traffic signals all over Detroit, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco.  Police officers had an easier time controlling traffic, and pedestrians were able to cross the street without having to go across with a coffin and a shovel!

Are you ready for a cool traffic fact?  I thought so.  Do you know what the percentage of drivers do when they see an amber light? Well, 85% of them DON’T know what to do.  That leaves about 10% who DO know what to do.  The final 5% usually get it right 47% of the time.  The other 53% of the time, they get a ticket.  Today, most people hit the brakes suddenly, or floor it.  What you are SUPPOSED to do is slow down, unless you have control of the intersection.  Then, you can floor it…  The red light happens 10 seconds later.  So you can’t go suing me if you go through an amber light turning red, while reading this post, AND get a $1000 ticket for going through a red light while on your cell-phone!

Today, traffic lights have evolved from the humble beginnings of railroad lights to LED lighted traffic lights that are computer driven!  Preposterous…

8 thoughts on “Who Wants to Play “Red-light, Green-light?”

  1. Wow, the first one looks so similar to the ones of today! Interesting history! Need a traffic light to our refrigerator!

  2. Candler, I found this very fascinating! I shared it with J.J. – and I will share it with others. Great conversation piece.

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