Early Traffic Light Designs

Early Traffic Light Designs

Before traffic signals became standard, there were a lot of different designs and innovations. Some of the oddest may have looked silly, but they were at least trying something different.  There were not only many attempts at design, but variations in the lighting sequences as well.

The only combination umbrella and traffic light ever invented.  (1916)

Traffic Light

The umbrella design and this “Go Go” sign were intended to be turned by the traffic directing policeman. (1915)

Traffic Light

This “Illuminated Waistcoat” may have been the only ever wearable traffic light. Instead of directing traffic officers could flick a switch and change the light on thier their illuminated chest to tell traffic to stop or go.  Officers are shown here modeling them on parade in New York in 1921.

Traffic Light

This is a very early completely electric design of a traffic light in 1914. While many early signals only showed stop and go, initially there was much controversy as to whether a third caution signal should be used on traffic lights going forward. (1914)

1929 NY city signal tower on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. Three signals, with what appears be an operator at the top. I am not completely sure how he got up there. ( http://www.hadunne.com )

Same intersection as above (42nd and 5th),  1920, showing an earlier version of a traffic tower. (PoliceNY.com)

Unique two light 5th Avenue traffic light design used from 34th to 61st street, from 1931 to 1964. (Photo Mitch Kahn)

Many early 3 color traffic lights would often show yellow and red simultaneously to indicate a coming change to green, and green and yellow simultaneously to show a coming change to red. (1935)

Traffic Light

Leave a comment


  1. Chris

     /  December 1, 2012

    Meriden CT had a ‘manned’ traffic tower at the intersection of W Main and Colony. I remember it in use as a kid. They did not destroy it but preserved it and moved it to a nearby location where it still stands today.

  2. I remember the iconic gold 5th Ave traffic lights. There were also color matched parking meters, post boxes and trash bins. The trash bins were sometimes confused with the mail boxes because they looked alike.


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