A Brief History of Traffic Lights

Imagine a group of people in the conference room having a heated debate over a specific topic. You don’t know exactly what they’re discussing, but it’s important to all of them. Without a mediator, this conversation will go on for hours — days even!

This is similar to how traffic worked before traffic lights. Those driving their vehicles would shout and yell as they passed through intersections, honking horns and taking the “right-of-way.” The situation created total chaos.

Today, Diablo Controls wants to share a brief history of traffic lights so that you can see the progression of traffic control over the years.

Traffic Light History

The Gas-lit Traffic Signal

Did you know that traffic signals were invented quite a long time before the automobile? December 10, 1868 marked the first installation of a gas-lit traffic signal out in front of the House of Parliament in London. J.P. Knight, a British railway engineer, proposed this type of light as a way to control the flow of carriages that frequently stopped there. Officers controlled the gas-lit signals manually, switching them from red to green as they needed.

The Electric Controlled Traffic Light

As the world transitioned into the 20th century, it was developing at a rapid pace. Industrialization was driving much of what we know today from infrastructure to distribution. This rapid growth created a new problem. A need for traffic control emerged, as vehicle accidents were becoming more prevalent as more people began driving. Lester Wire, a policeman, designed an electrically controlled traffic light. The first electric traffic light based on Wire’s design was installed in Cleveland, Ohio on August 5, 1914. The light stood at the corner of Euclid Avenue and 105th.

The Four-Way, Three-Colored Traffic Light

During the 1920s, Detroit Michigan was the first city to install the four-way, three-colored traffic light. For the first time in history, a third color was added to the light. William Potts, a Detroit policeman, invented the first of the four-way, three-colored traffic lights. From the late 1920s on, Detroit continued to implement traffic lights that helped manage the flow of vehicles in the area.


Computerized Traffic Lights

The invention of computers brought on a new way to control traffic lights. During the 1960s, traffic lights were computerized so that they can monitor traffic more efficiently. This helped keep drivers from sitting at lights for minutes before the light changed. Now, the computers identify vehicles and determine the best time to change traffic lights to improve traffic flow.

Diablo Controls: 40-Plus Years in The Traffic Control Industry

As a global leader in the traffic, access, and parking control industries for the last 40 years, Diablo Controls is proud to push the envelope when it comes to technology and application. We’ve pioneered many important innovations that have advanced these industries into the future. What’s more, we changed the trajectory of traffic control electronics with the first ever microcontrollers to the parking control industry. Contact us today to order your control devices today!

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