The Untold History Of World’s First Traffic Signal

worlds first traffic signal and worlds first traffic lights

Traffic lights are used to control traffic in almost every country of the world, although in many places they are also known as traffic signal, traffic semaphore, signal lights, stop lights, traffic control signals, but in almost all countries the rules of traffic lights are the same. Traffic rules can vary in every country, but the rules of the Traffic Lights are almost the same which depending on the 3 lights, Green, Amber, and Red. We have been following these lights for a long time, but have you ever tried to know what is the history of traffic lights? Or when the world’s first traffic lights were used and where was it used? I know very few people will have noticed this, so let us discuss the world’s first traffic lights …

Traffic lights were first introduced to the world on 10 December 1868. These first traffic lights of the world were installed outside the London Houses of Parliament, whose purpose was to control the traffic around the new Parliament Square. Red and green gas lamps were used in these Semaphore-type traffic lights. These world’s first traffic lights were not automatic like the current traffic lights, they had to manually run, for which there was always a police constable deployed. In the day time, the constable used semaphore arms and in the night the constable used red and green gas lamps to control the traffic.

the inventor of worlds first traffic signal and worlds first traffic lights
John Peake Knight
Credit: J.P. Knight Museu

The world’s first traffic lights were designed by John Peake Knight, who was employed on a railway signaling engineer post. Although there was no any kind of traffic law at that time that’s why it was not a lawful offense to break these traffic signals but still these lights were successful in controlling traffic to an extent. Unfortunately, the first lights failed to provide its services for a long time, they explode in 2 Jan.1869(less than one month time). The reason of the explosion was a gas leak at the base of the semaphore. Not only the lights were damaged in this explosion but also the police constable, who operates it, suffered severe injuries.

After this, many other countries tried different ways to use traffic lights, such as semaphore traffic signals, Green and Red Torch, Stop and Go signboards, etc., but no one idea worked correctly. Then the year 1912 came, when the world’s first electric traffic lights were developed by Lester Wire, who was a policeman in Salt Lake City, Utah that time. These electric lights were also designed with green and red light to control traffic. On the basis of this traffic signal, on August 5, 1914, the American Traffic Signal Company designed a new traffic light system that was installed in East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. This traffic signal system used to work on two lights, red and green, but what made it different was a buzzer system which was attached to it, which provided a warning before the signal color changes. Also, this system designed by James Hoge also allows police and fire stations to control traffic lights in an emergency.

After the electric traffic lights, the turn was the first 3 lights based traffic system, and that was the first time appeared in Detroit, Michigan in 1920 which was created by a policeman William Potts. After that, the electric traffic lights and 3 lights traffic systems started in most of the countries. In October 1920, America installed its first automated traffic signals in Los Angeles at five different locations on Broadway.

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So this is the history of the traffic lights. Hopefully, now you know everything about the first traffic lights such when they installed and where they installed, still if you have any questions regarding the history of traffic signals you can ask us in the comments section.


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