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Early

Cleveland, Ohio, is credited with installing the first electric traffic signal in 1914. Prior to the electric signal were “stop” and “go” signs that police officers manually rotated to control traffic. In the 1910s and 1920s, there were few standards for traffic signals; design and placement was at the discretion of each city. Many cities employed the traditional red, green, and yellow system that was used by the railroads (and eventually became the traffic signal standard), while others used only the red and green or a completely different system of colors. In 1935, the tri-color, four-way traffic signal became standard.

Below are a variety of early traffic signals. Traffic towers, seen on the left, were used in larger cities. The two-light signal, in the center, was common before the three-light standard. The "slow" signal in the image on the right appeared in many cities around Vermont; these often appeared on curves or where automobiles and streetcars intersected.

Traffic Tower Two-Light Signal Slow Signal

Traffic Tower (left), Two-Light Signal (center), and Slow Signal (right): Image center courtesy of the New York Police Department, 2006. Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the Vermont State Archives.

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