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The world’s first traffic light was not used for the purposes that it is used for today.  The first ever traffic light actually was used for pedestrians and wagons.  Now and days we have the crosswalk light to give the signal for pedestrians to cross and wagons or no longer travel on the roads.  The very first traffic light was installed in London, England in 1868 by a railroad engineer by the name of J.P. Knight   It is not the electrical lights we think of today, but it actually was a gas lantern that had the colors red and green on different sides of the lantern.  The lantern was connected to a lever at the base of the post that was manually operated by a police officer.  The lever was used to turn the lantern to face the appropriate way of traffic flow.  The meaning of the colors on the lantern was very similar to today’s traffic light.  The color red meant to “stop,” and where as we think of green as “go,” it actually meant, “to be cautious” during the 19th century.  We have now established the traffic light in three colors, “Green meant to “go,” red meant to “stop,” and yellow (amber) meant “clear the intersection.”[1] This was a good idea at the time until things went wrong.  In January 2, 1869, just a year after the light was installed, the lantern had a malfunction and it exploded.  It injured the police officer operating it and the surrounding people who were in the vicinity of the blast.  This was obviously too dangerous and they got rid of the whole idea of trying to control the flow of traffic.  By almost 6 decades later, another police officer by the name of Lester Wire created the first ever-electric traffic light in 1912.  It was based off the same theory as the lantern traffic light with the colors red and green, but Wire’s invention was slightly different and used for a different purpose.  Lester Wire’s traffic light also had a buzzer attached to the light.  The police station and fire department had total control of this traffic light.  This traffic light was used in case of emergencies.  When an emergency came about, they would sound the buzzer and turn the light red so they could get their personal and also move their vehicles out with ease without having to deal with traffic.  Lester’s traffic light didn’t impact the overall flow of traffic, just the times when the police station and fire department needed to use it.

[1]: Edward A. Mueller, “Aspects of the History of Traffic Signals,” IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology, vol.VT-19, no.1, p.6-17, (1970)

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