When was the first traffic light installed? Google Doodle honours anniversary

5 Aug 2015

Traffic lights - a necessary evil, especially when you're in a hurry.

The installation of the world’s first electric traffic light system 101 years ago has been honoured with an animated Google Doodle that harks back to the early days of the horseless carriage we now call the car.

Today’s Google doodle marks the necessary evil that is the traffic light. Oh yes, we all know how the ‘system’ conspires to make sure we get red lights, especially when we’re in a hurry. Well, the first electric system was installed on 5 August 1914 by the American Traffic Signal company on the corner of East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio.

It had two colours – red and green – and a buzzer which was based on the design by James Hoge to provide a warning before colours changed; a precursor to the amber light.

The lights offered a welcome respite for policemen who had to contend with tough North American winters.

However, traffic lights had an even earlier and more chaotic beginning. The world’s first gas-lit traffic lights were installed outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Bridge Street, Great George Street and Parliament Street in 1868.

However, while successful at controlling traffic, they exploded on 2 January 1869 as a result of a gas leak.

Today’s Doodle captures the stop-go nature of the early traffic lights as an ornate lights system stops and starts what look like streams of ancient automobiles, stopping at the words Google.

101st Anniversary of the First Electric Traffic Signal System

Traffic light image at top via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years