101 Years Ago Today, the First Electric Traffic Light Was Installed in Cleveland

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A traffic light, inspired by Garret Morgan's first electric model, holds court on Broadway Avenue in Cleveland in 1935. (Photo courtesy of CMP and Cleveland Press)
  • A traffic light, inspired by Garret Morgan's first electric model, holds court on Broadway Avenue in Cleveland in 1935. (Photo courtesy of CMP and Cleveland Press)

On this day — Aug. 5  — in 1914, the world's first electric traffic light was installed on the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street in Cleveland, Google reminded us today.
A mock-up of Morgan's patented T-shaped traffic light. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)
  • A mock-up of Morgan's patented T-shaped traffic light. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

The brainchild of local inventor Garrett Morgan, who, interestingly enough also invented hair straightening products and a breathing device that served as a predecessor to the gas masks used during World War I, the T-shaped traffic signal likely inspired more chaos and curiosity during its early days than order.

Initially sporting only two primary commands: stop and go, the traffic light was adapted over the years by Morgan and others who tweaked the design and functionality to better regulate traffic. In the 1920s, bells were added to indicate a light change and were later replaced by that yellow middle light we know today. In the 1990s, countdown timers were introduced to ease street crossings for pedestrians. 

Over a century later, traffic lights are still proving their functionality and assisting folks in Cleveland and beyond to get from place to place safely; that is, of course, when we're not scrolling through email or flicking off the driver behind us.


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