The city of Jamestown got its first traffic signal 93 years ago although the community and the City Council weren’t entirely sure it was a good idea.
The traffic signal was installed in the fall of 1926 at the intersection of what is now First Avenue and First Street South. There is still a traffic signal at the corner today.
In 1926, the concept was so new The Jamestown Sun ran a front-page article explaining the concept for the “autoists” and pedestrians that would be traveling through the intersection.
“The new signal is operated by electricity,” wrote The Sun reporter. “It rings a bell and shows a yellow light before changing from ‘go’ to ‘stop’ or from ‘stop’ to ‘go.’”
City officials had arranged a 30-day free trial just in case the new traffic signal didn’t work out.
Traffic signals weren’t a new concept. The first was installed in London in 1868. The signal used natural gas for illumination and was operated by a police officer who manually switched the light to control traffic.
The light in London was less than successful. The police officer was injured when the gas light exploded during its first month of operation.
In 1910, an automated traffic signal was developed in Chicago that switched between signs reading “stop” and “proceed.”
Traffic signals using the yellow, red and green lights were first used in Detroit in 1920.
The signal in Jamestown in 1926 included devices at all four corners of the intersection and were installed on a Wednesday afternoon and “caused some confusion in the ranks of the altoists and considerable entertainment in those of the pedestrians.”
According to the description in The Jamestown Sun, the folks in the cars didn’t notice the signals on the corner until they were in the midst of the intersection. Then they would either stop in the middle of traffic or speed out of the intersection.
“In spite of the confusion,” the newspaper reporter wrote. “The signals found general favor.”
Jamestown was fairly modern with the installation of a traffic signal in 1926, less than a decade after the devices were first used in some of the major cities of the United States.
The community of Jamestown also adopted the more progressive and modern configuration of the colored lights.
From the invention of the traffic signal until the mid-1940s, there was no standard for how the colored lights were arranged on a traffic signal.
Some communities opted for the standard used in the railroad industry with the green light on top. Other communities, including Jamestown, configured its signals with the red light at top.
It wasn’t until after World War II that traffic signals were standardized with the red light on top.
And it would seem Jamestown was about 20 years ahead of the curve on that one.