facts about the invention
of the Traffic
William L. Potts in 1920.
AT A GLANCE:
Officer William L. Potts of Detroit, Michigan, decided to do something
about the problem caused by the ever increasing number of automobiles on
the streets. What he had in mind was figuring out a way to adapt
railroad signals for street use. Potts used red, amber, and green railroad lights and about
thirty-seven dollars worth of wire and electrical controls to make the
world’s first 4-way three color traffic light. It was installed in 1920
on the corner of Woodward and Michigan Avenues in Detroit. Within a
year, Detroit had installed a total of fifteen of the new automatic
DID YOU KNOW?
noun / trsffic signal / stoplight
A road signal for directing vehicular traffic by
means of colored lights, typically red for stop, green for go, and
yellow for proceed with caution.
As a government emplyee Potts could not patent
William L. Potts
First practical. Modern prototype.
1918 U.S.Patent # 1,251,666 issued January 1, to J.B. Hoge of Cleveland,
1919 U.S.Patent # 1,307,544 issued June 24, to Oscar A. Erdmann of
1920 William Potts invents and installs a three color, four direction
taffic light in Detroit, MI
1923 U.S.Patent # 1,475,024 issued November 20, 1923 to Garrett Morgan
for traffic signal
ARYs: traffic light, traffic signal, stop light, William Potts, Garrett Morgan, J
Hoge, Oscar Erdmann, history, invention, stroy, facts,
Even during the horse and
buggy days, traffic in big cities was often heavy. Police officers had to be stationed
full time directing traffic at busy intersections.
The worlds first traffic light came into
being before the automobile was in use, and traffic consisted only of pedestrians,
buggies, and wagons. Installed at an intersection in London in 1868, it was a
revolving lantern with red and green signals. Red meant "stop" and green
meant "caution." The lantern, illuminated by gas, was turned by means of a
lever at its base so that the appropriate light faced traffic. On January 2, 1869,
this crude traffic light exploded, injuring the policeman who was operating it.
With the coming of
automobiles, the situation got even worse. Police Officer William L. Potts of Detroit,
Michigan, decided to do something about the problem. What he had in mind was
figuring out a way to adapt railroad signals for street use. The railroads were
already utilizing automatic controls. But railroad traffic traveled along parallel
lines. Street traffic traveled at right angles. Potts used red, amber, and
green railroad lights and about thirty-seven dollars worth of wire and electrical controls
to make the worlds first 4-way three color traffic light. It was installed in 1920 on the corner
of Woodward and Michigan Avenues in Detroit. Within a year, Detroit had installed a
total of fifteen of the new automatic lights.
At about the same time, Garrett Morgan of Cleveland, Ohio realized the need to control the flow of
traffic. A gifted inventor and reportedly the first African American to own an
automobile in Cleveland, Ohio, he invented the electric automatic traffic light.
Though it looked more like the semaphore signals you see at train crossings today.
Many others had obtained US Patents for Traffic Signals, some as early
as 1918. But Morgan's Patent was purchased by General Electric
provided the protection they needed to begin building a monopoly on
traffic light manufacture.
TO LEARN MORE
from The Great Idea Finder
from The Great Idea Finder
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Illustrated History of Inventions From the Wheel to the Computer
by Edward De Bono / Hardcover - 248 pages (1974) / Thames & Hudson
A marvelous array of history's and prehistory's most important and
Kid Who Invented the Popsicle: And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident,
from animal crackers to the zipper.
Why Didn't I Think of That?: Bizarre Origins of Ingenious Inventions We
Couldn't Live Without
by Allyn Freeman, Bob Golden / Paperback: 260 pages / John Wiley & Sons;
Filled with wacky and fascinating facts, awe-inspiring success statistics,
and rags-to-riches stories, Chronicles the odd origins behind 50 famous
inventions and reveals the business side of each product's actual
production, marketing, and distribution.
by Garnet Jackson / Paperback - 26 pages / Dearborn Financial Publishing
A brief biography of an African American inventor that describes, in
rhyming text, how his lifelong interest in machines led to the invention
of the traffic signal.
ON THE WEB:
William Potts Traffic
Although Potts' achievement seems to not have been recognized at the
time, a United States Court decision in 1928 established that he was,
indeed, the inventor of the first 4-way, three-color signal.
Four-Way Traffic Signal
The intersection of Woodward Avenue and Fort Street (or Woodward and
Michigan Avenue; both sites are recorded) in Detroit was the site of the
world's first four-way traffic stop, which was put there in 1920. The
stoplight had twelve bulbs and was manually operated.
Garrett Morgan's Traffic Light
Invention of the traffic light according to the U.S. Department of
The first traffic lights had only four-inch lenses and the shell was
wood with a tin cover. An original lamp was presented to Henry Ford’s
collection of Americana at the Edison Institute, Greenfield Village, in
The Hery Ford - Greenfield Village
Experience 300 years of
history as the sights, sounds and sensations of America’s past come
Traffic Signals Red, Green and Amber?
In 1920 Police Officer William Potts addressed the chaotic
traffic of Detroit, Michigan, by co-opting the red, amber, and green
automatic traffic light system used on railroads.
As traffic jams and headaches increase, inventors are continuing to work
hard to make travel more safe and efficient.
Traffic Signal Museum
This site displays a private collection of over 75 vehicle and
pedestrian traffic signals. Most people don't realize how many different
types and makes of signals there are. The Traffic Signal Museum is the
name of the site, it is not a real museum.
Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Featured Garrett A. Morgan (1877-1963) for his invention of the The Gas Mask.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Morgan traffic signal was a T-shaped pole
unit that featured three positions: Stop, Go and an all-directional stop position. This
third position halted traffic in all directions to allow pedestrians to cross
streets more safely.
Morgan's traffic management device was used
throughout North America until it was replaced by the red, yellow and green-light traffic
signals currently used around the world.
Morganr sold the rights to his traffic
signal to the General Electric Corporation for $40,000.
Shortly before his death, in 1963, Morgan was
awarded a citation for his traffic signal by the United States Government.
Garrett Morgan earned US
Patent No.1,475,024 issued November 20, 1923 fot his traffic signal.
Sources in BOLD Type
November 13, 2006.
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