Before Perú Bus Life

Red light, green light.

December 11, 2014

Since my jay-dash across the intersection yesterday, I’ve been wondering…

Since when did you have to wait on a light to cross the street?

When did cars start becoming so plentiful that we needed traffic control?

And who invented the stop light? Was it always a red and green light?

I mean, I get that the purpose of traffic control is for safety and efficiency. That kind of goes without saying. But people started traveling by foot at the beginning of time before their were even trails to walk on, and after several thousand years (that may be up for debate for many of you, but that’s not my point) we now have so many cars that you can’t even cross an intersection without a green light. It’s truly a wonder!

So, I decided to look it up.

I found an article on about ancient transportation. So, consider myself paraphrasing all of the work that was already done by a Mr. Tim Lambert.

The first means of transportation was obviously by way of Shank’s Pony (a.k.a. the human foot.) Between 4,000BC and 3,000BC animals (mostly horses and donkey at this point) were domesticated and used for transport. Shortly after, camels began being domesticated for the same purpose. Meanwhile, over in what is now Iraq, the wheel was invented; though it wasn’t even made with spokes, so I imagine it was pretty flimsy and unreliable. It was a start though. The earliest boats were dug out canoes. Apparently, they took logs, set them on fire in the center, and carved out the burnt part of the tree… Voila: A canoe! In 3,100BC the Egyptians invented the first sailboat, but the sail only went with the wind. It seems it was too fragile to go against the wind, so they traveled against the wind with old fashioned rowing. Almost a century later, they had begun relying on wooden ships, for trade and such.

When the Roman Empire came along, they became famous for the network of roads they implemented. The rich traveled these roads by horse and some of them were carried on litters, which are those seats held together by two poles. Classy! Transport by water consisted of merchant ships by this time, which could carry up to 1,000 tons of goods. They were still using oars at this time. Talk about a work out!

When the Middle Ages came around, the roads kind of fell apart with the Roman Empire. Dirt tracks were the road unless they had turned to mud due to weather. They used wagons and litters, but it wasn’t comfortable. I imagine if I were traveling by wagon I’d be car sick on their roads… Though they didn’t have land transportation very well figured out, they soon discovered the Chinese’s invention of the compass and learned to use it. Having a better sense of direction must have inspired them to want to travel the sea further because they managed to invent rudders at this point in time. Needless to say, the medieval times made advancements in ship building.

During the 16th century, roads were still dirt tracks. They did a lot of traveling by horse and were lucky if they traveled 31-36 miles a day. Goods were transported by horse and carriage but by water whenever possible.

When the 17th century rolled around, transportation and communication began to improve. This is when King Charles I implemented the royal mail system. First, the king’s messenger’s transported his correspondences and later the king allowed for the public to pay his messengers to deliver their letters. In the mid-17 century, stagecoaches began running regularly between major cities, but they were expensive and uncomfortable. There was also danger of highwaymen men who would rob people traveling via highway. Oh, and in 1663 the first Turnpike Roads were opened. (What is a Turnpike? It was basically the first tollway system ever invented.) The Turnpike allowed for efficient and reliable travel which seemed  necessary at the time given their dirt track roads.

In the 18 century, Turnpikes became much more common. Acts of Parliament gave a bunch of rich guys the ability to make improvements to maintain the roads. Obviously, travelers had to pay to use the Turnpikes, but I learned in the link above that only 1/6 of England’s roads were turnpiked. The rest were free – just maybe not as reliable or efficient. Another advancement made in the 18th century was the digging of canals. The Duke of Bridgewater was looking for a cheaper way to transport coal and Boom! Next thing you know, the first major canal is built. Canal digging continued through the 19th century and, later, was a large contributor in the industrial revolution. Nicely done, Duke. Oh, and in the meantime, the Montgolfier brothers were over in France inventing the first hot air balloon. Great success!

Great revolutions came along in the 19th century with the invention of railways. It was a faster and safer way to travel, as it avoided the danger of highwaymen. The first major railway went up in 1830, running from Liverpool to Manchester. Within a decade, most of Britain was connected via rail. Next thing you know, all sorts of trains started going up – underground railways, steam and electric trains, and even those adorable horse-drawn omnibuses. This is when the first traffic lights started going up in London – to make roads more efficient for the omnibuses. Unfortunately, the traffic lights were operated by gas and eventually blew up.

Then… Then!, Karl Benz (Marcedes-Benz ring a bell?) and Gottlieb Daimler (Daimler Chrysler?!) end the century with a BANG, introducing the invention of their cars to the public in 1885 and 1886. Needless to say, cars developed quickly. During this time period, the motorbike and bicycle came into existence as well, and cycling became pretty common. Oh, and it was during this time period that the first steam ship makes its way across the world, and later the steam turbine makes its way into existence improving the efficiency of sea transportation.

Next thing you know, the 20th century comes along. The Wright brothers invent the first airplane, and cars are the thing to have. World War I ends and cars become a little cheaper, but Tim cites that only 1 in 10 families in Britain had a car at this time. After World War II ends, they become more readily available, but it’s not until 1960 that people are really buying them. In 1970, a majority of families owned their own vehicle.

Meanwhile, we’re working through the inventions that should come with motor vehicles: traffic lights, speed limit signs, etc.

In 1901, Connecticut issued its first law regarding the speed of vehicles: 12 mph on city roads and 15 mph on country roads. A few years later Britain started implementing speed limit signs of 20, then 30. I found that the first traffic lights were invented in the U.S. in 1914. They started as automatic, non-illuminated and used the words “stop” and “proceed.” A couple years later, they switched it up to an electronic version that used red and green lights. A year later it changed to the illuminated words “stop” and “move,” but finally it became an over-hanging four-way, red, green and yellow light system. In 1931, the first breathalyzer was invented. In 1935, the parking meter came into effect. The “Don’t Walk” sign came into effect  in 1952. The three-point seat belt came to be in 1959 and speed cameras in the early 90’s.

So much of our world changed at the turn of the 1900’s. Gosh! I feel so informed about the timeline of transportation. Way too much information, but now I know at least. We’ve been waiting on lights to cross the street since the mid-1900’s. We’ve been needing traffic control because of the boom in vehicles since the mid-1900’s. And the stop light was not always red and green.

Ha. And now you know, too!


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