Friday, February 5, 2010

Postcard Friendship Friday - Today in History- But, Officer!

New York Traffic Squad on the State Fair grounds in Syracuse - 1902

Today in history marks the anniversary of the installation of the first three color traffic light in New York City on February 5, 1952.

Traffic Tower on 5th Avenue, 1920's

There have been an assortment of traffic regulators throughout the ages, but it was the three color light that eventually became the international traffic signal.


The true meaning of the colors (in the US and most other countries) is:
AMBER = clear the intersection
GREEN = Go - if safe to do so

I know the above information comes as a complete surprise to a society that thinks independently, is competitive by nature, and has that "You talkin' to me?" attitude.
People are killed every day because people run red lights, slam on their brakes at yellow lights, and take off at green lights without first checking for the red light runners.
(How to measure the length of a second: Its the time between the light turning green and the guy behind you beeping his horn.)
In 1868, John Peak, a railroad manager in Nottingham, UK gave us traffic lights, powered by gas lanterns. He figured if the lights worked for the railroad, they should work for horse and carriage traffic. The first of these was installed in front of the British Houses of Parliament. Unfortunately it exploded in 1869 and killed the police officer who was running it.

Lester Wire, a Mormon, and a detective on the Salt Lake City police force, Utah, is given credit for the red/green combination which he invented around 1912.
Given that society rarely follows the back and white - but seeking ways to get around by inventing gray areas - William Potts, a Detroit police officer added an amber light in 1920, giving
us the three color traffic signal. His invention was only known locally. Although the three color light eventually became the international standard and is still used (though not necessarily observed) today, William Potts died in obscurity.

I was telling the Mister the history of the traffic signal, and about the time I was talking about Lester Wire, the Mister said: "I went to grade school with a kid who claimed his grandfather invented the traffic signal." Was his name Potts? I asked. Yes! - the kid was David Potts grandson of William Potts!
Thanks for stopping by for my cautionary tale! For more Postcard Friendship Friday fun, go to Marie's Voila! Vintage Postcards.


Postcardy said...

I remember learning that "Stop, Look, Listen" are what the colors mean when I was young.

Snap said...

I really enjoyed this post (and the cards) on the three color traffic lights. Perhaps everyone should revisit what the colors mean?!! Ah, well, here in Texas -- drives tend to do what they want when they want... ACK!!!! Happy PFF!

Sheila said...

Very interesting. I assume there were other types of traffic lights in new York before 1952. I can't imagine they managed without any before the three colour lights were installed!

We have an extra combination of lights in the UK, when both the red and amber are showing at once. It still means stop, but indicates that the green will soon appear.

viridian said...

Hey, I remember the red and yellow combination too, when I was small. Too long ago now to remember.
When I lived in Chicago, I was introduced to the Texas Rolling Stop: slow down appraoching a stop sign, but don't really stop all the way, then accelerate because there is no cross traffic.

Beth Niquette said...

What an interesting post! I really enjoyed reading this one. Wonderful postcards, too. Happy PFF!

steviewren said...

How the heck do you find this interesting stuff? I had no idea that use of the 3 light traffic light was so recent. Your research skills are exemplary!

dmarks said...

That day in 1902 was a good day to commit moving violations in NYC. All the cops were out.

Anonymous said...

Amen. Thanks for posting this. I am a former driver's license examiner for the state of WI & I've seen a lot of stupid things. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Amen. Thanks for posting this. I am a former driver's license examiner for the state of WI & I've seen a lot of stupid things. Sigh.

Dayhomemama said...

Weeheee, I still use the STOP LOOK and LISTEN with the kids I care for, I try teaching them about the lights and how they work, maybe on Monday we'll have to come back and I will read them this posting! Great stuff!

Debby said...

I thought you would get a kick out of the stop light on Tipperary Hill in Syracuse NY.

I've been to the Coleman Pub. The waitresses shriek and tug at their skirts, claiming to be pinched by the resident leprechaun. The kids could not stop looking under the table.

Mary said...

Fun post, muse.

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