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The stoplight turns 100 this month

The next time you are in a traffic jam in downtown Syracuse, are frustrated with metering lights or are waiting for traffic to loosen up, you may wonder if the traffic signal gods simply don’t have your best interests in mind. You may also wonder if the traffic signal was invented yesterday and whether it will ever evolve.

As for when it was invented, the traffic signal is officially 100 years old this month. The very first one was installed at the intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street in Cleveland, Ohio. The signal’s inventor, James Hoge, envisioned a device that would essentially improve his commute. At this time, Cleveland was going through an industrial renaissance, and this led to population growth. With many more people coming in and out of the city for work in cars, bicycles, horses and even streetcars, this inevitably led to traffic snarls. 

The first traffic signal featured four pairs of red and green lights that stood for “stop” and “go.” Of course, this design went through a host of changes before the traditional three color semaphore system that we see today was enacted.

While the stoplight was a critically important invention, car accidents still happen despite common knowledge of the rules of the road. When accidents occur, an investigation is sometimes necessary to determine who was at fault. Indeed, it is usually the fault of the driver who failed to yield the right of way. But the next time you are in a crash at an intersection, or wish that a particular one had a stoplight, you can know that 100 years ago, drivers were likely in the same predicament. 

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