Traffic as a word, was initially describing the transpiration, by predominantly sea, of merchandise for the purpose of trade and in this meaning has entered the English language at the beginning of the 1500s.
Traffic control dates back to the days of Julius Caesar and though this year marked the 100th anniversary of the first electric traffic light system, the idea for traffic lights goes back to 1800s as a system to control the increasing horse-driven traffic.
The world’s first traffic control device with lights was installed in London, near the Parliament (intersection of George and Bridge Streets) in 1868.The device was operated manually by a police officer and at day time was controlling the traffic by moveable arms, but at night using gas powered red and green lights. Unfortunately, only after a month of use, a gas leak resulted in the device’s explosion and serious injury of the policeman operating it.
Man controlled gas and kerosine powered traffic lights were in use around the US in the following two decades. A 1912 written record of how spread out the traffic lights were to control air and land traffic appears in Rudyard Kipling’s As easy as A.B.C where in the trying to hold the masses and election results, a good bye to rights in Illinois was said and traffic lights were turned out to stop traffic, along with traffic lights on landing towers going down.
The first manually controlled traffic light was patented in 1913 by James Hoge and installed in Ohio. The traffic device illuminated the words “Stop” and “Go” and only 4 years later the first automatic one using red and green colored lights appeared. At the beginning of the 1920s the first traffic light with an yellow light was invented and in 1923 the mass production of the traffic light as we know it today begun.
The first electric traffic lights to be installed in England were in Piccadilly Circus in 1926, with the first written evidence coming from a sitting of the House of Commons from 1931, discussing the “Installations of automatic traffic control signals”.
Today there are nearly 30 000 traffic light sets across the UK. With the most famous – The traffic light tree art installation from 1998, 8 meters tall and with 75 sets of computer controlled lights, situated at a roundabout of one of London’s financial districts, declared as the most beautiful roundabout and coming back to light at the beginning of this year after it was uprooted at the end of 2011.