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The following are the
History of Lights:

Street Lights, Headlights, Tail Lights,
Traffic Lights, and Turn Signals

Street Lights:

In the 1700's, street lighting was first
introduced to the US by inventor
Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia.
The colonial era streetlights were lit
by candles placed inside a glass
vessel, which kept the candle from
being blown out by wind.

Franklin's design was four sided, with
four separate panes of glass, so that
if one pane of glass was broken, the
lamp did not need to be entirely replaced,
and might not even blow out.

The street lights in Franklin's day were
not very efficient and the glass
globes tended to become dark with
soot from the oil burned inside,
requiring almost daily cleaning.

In 1803, the U. S. introduced gas lighting
in Newport, Rhode Island.
Throughout the 1800's, the use of
gas lighting increased.
Some locations in the U.S. still use
gas lights today.

After Thomas Edison pioneered electric
use, light bulbs were developed
for the street lights as well.
The first city to use electric street
lights was Wabash, Indiana.

The City Council of Wabash agreed to
testing the lights and in 1880,
Wabash became the first electrical
lighted city in the world as a flood
of light engulfed the town from 4
Brush Lights mounted atop
the courthouse.

One of the original Brush Lights is on
display at the Wabash County

By the beginning of the 1900's,
the number of fire based streetlights
was dwindling as developers were
searching for safer and more effective
ways to illuminate their streets.

In the 1930's, fluorescent lamp first
became common.
These lamps are a form of discharge
where a small current causes a gas
in the tube to glow.

The typical glow is strong in ultraviolet
but weak in visible light.
The glass envelope is coated in a
mixture of phosphors that are excited
by the ultraviolet light and emit
visible light.

Fluorescent lamps are much more
efficient than incandescent lamps,
and for a short time became popular
in street lighting both because of the
efficiency and the novelty value.

In 1948, the first regular production
mercury vapor streetlight assembly
was developed.

It was deemed a major improvement over
the incandescent light bulb, and shone
much brighter than incandescent or
fluorescent lights.

In the 1960's, mercury lamps were
coated with a special material made
of phosphors inside the bulb to
help correct the lack of orange/red
light from mercury vapor lamps
(increasing the color rendering index.
The UV light excites the phosphor,
producing a more "white" light.

Today, street lighting commonly uses
"high intensity discharge" lamps.
"Low pressure sodium" lamp
s became
commonplace after World War II
for their low power consumption
and long life.

Late in the 1980's, high pressure sodium
were preferred, taking further
the same virtues.
Such lamps provide the greatest amount
of photopic illumination for the least
consumption of electricity.

Studies comparing metal halide and
high-pressure sodium lamps have
shown that at equal photopic
light levels, a street scene illuminated
at night by a metal halide lighting
system was reliably seen as brighter
and safer than the same scene
illuminated by a high pressure
sodium system.

Head Lights:

The earliest headlights, fueled by
acetylene or oil, operated from
the late 1880s.

Acetylene lamps were popular because
the flame is resistant to wind
and rain.

The first electric headlamps were
introduced in 1898 on the Columbia
Electric Car
from the Electric Vehicle
Company of Hartford, Connecticut,
and were optional.

In 1912, Cadillac integrated their vehicle's
Delco electrical ignition and lighting system,
forming the modern vehicle electrical

The Guide Lamp Company introduced
dipping (low-beam) headlamps in 1915,
but the 1917 Cadillac system allowed
the light to be dipped using a lever
inside the car rather than requiring the
driver to stop and get out.

The 1924 Bilux bulb was the first
modern unit, having the light for
both low (dipped) and high (main) beams
of a headlamp emitting from a
single bulb.

In 1927 the foot-operated dimmer switch
or dip switch was introduced
and became standard for much
of the century.

The standardized 7-inch round sealed-beam
headlight, one per side, was required
for all vehicles sold in the U.S. from 1940,
virtually freezing usable lighting technology
in place until the 1970s for Americans.

In 1957 the law changed to allow
smaller 5.75-inch round sealed beams,
2 per side of the vehicle, and in 1974
rectangular sealed beams were
permitted as well.

When Federal Motor Vehicle Safety
Standard 108 was amended in 1974 to
permit rectangular sealed-beam
headlamps, these were placed in
horizontally arrayed or vertically
stacked pairs.

By 1979, the majority of new cars in
the US market were equipped with
rectangular lamps.

Tail Lights:

In about 1899,the first rear lighting
(one kerosene lamp) was introduced to
provide license plate illumination.

It was common to equip the license
plate lamp with a red opening
towards the rear, thereby creating
the first tail lamps.

Not until about 1920 did most cars
have electric lamps in both the front
and rear.
 During the 1920s, the first national
and international regulations and
standards on rear lighting

 In 1926, the predecessor of the UN,
the League of Nations, agreed on the
first conventions related to automobile
It was then agreed that during the night
every motor vehicle must have a red lamp
in the rear, and that the rear registration
plate must be illuminated.

In the 1930's, two tail lamps became
common in the U.S.

Functionally Red light has less
effect on human low
light vision than
any other visible color.
Red tail and brake lights are highly
identifiable to the ROD cells in
your eyes, while higher wavelength
colors like green or blue are harder
to distinguish.

 In 1905, the first brake lamps were
By 1928, requirements for brake
lamps were introduced in 11 states
in the U.S.

The Ford Model T used carbide lamps
for headlamps and oil lamps for
tail lamps.
It did not have all electric lighting as
a standard feature until several years
after introduction.

Dynamos for automobile headlamps
were first fitted around 1908 and
became commonplace in
1920s cars.

Traffic Lights:

Before traffic lights, traffic police
controlled the flow of traffic in

In 1868, the world's first traffic
light was short lived.
It was a manually operated gas-lit
signal installed in London, England.
 It exploded less than a month after it
was implemented, injuring its operator.

Traffic control started to seem
necessary in the late 1890s and
Earnest Sirrine from Chicago patented
the first automated traffic control
system in 1910.
It used the words
STOP and GO,
although neither word lit up.

The words STOP and GO were in white
on a green background and the lights
had red and green lenses illuminated
by kerosene lamps for night travelers
and the arms were 8 feet above ground.

It was controlled by a traffic officer
who would blow a whistle before
changing the commands on this signal
to help alert travelers of the change.

In 1920, police officer William Potts
of Detroit invented the three
colored traffic light.
He was concerned about how
police officers at 4 different
lights signals could not change their
lights all at the same time.

The answer was a third light
that was colored amber, which
was the same color used on the
railroad, Potts also placed a timer with
the light to help coordinate a
4 - way set of lights in the city.

In 1923, after witnessing an accident
between an automobile and a horse
drawn carriage, inventor Garrett Morgan
patented a three position traffic signal.

In the 1950's, control of traffic lights
became computerized.
A pressure plate was placed at
intersections so once a car was
on the plate computers would know
that a car was waiting at the red light.

Some of this detection included
knowing the number of waiting
cars against the red light and the
length of time waited by the first
vehicle at the red.

As computers evolved, traffic light
control also improved and
became easier.

In 1967, the city of Toronto, Canada,
was the first to use more advanced
computers that were better
at vehicle detection.
Thanks to the new and better
computers traffic flow moved
even quicker than with the use
of the tower.
The computers maintained control
over 159 signals in the cities
through telephone lines.
People praised the computers
for their detection abilities.

Thanks to detection computers could
change the length of the green light
based on the volume of waiting cars.
The rise of computers is the model of
traffic control which is now
used in the 21st century.

Turn Signals:

Also known as indicators,
blinkers,and directionals.

Before turn signals became common,
drivers were required to stick their
arm out to signal their direction
or to stop.

In 1914, silent film star Florence
Lawrence developed a mechanical
signaling arm that, with the press
of a button, raised or lowered a
flag on the car’s rear bumper
that told other drivers which way
a car was going to turn.

After that, Lawrence devised a
basic brake signal that worked
when a driver pressed the brakes,
a “STOP” sign flipped up from
the back bumper.
She never patented either of
these inventions, and as a result
she didn't receive any credit or
profit from it.

In 1938, Buick added the first
flashing electric turn signal
as a new safety feature.
It was advertised by Buick as
the “Flash-Way Directional Signal”.
In 1940, Buick added the self
canceling mechanism attached
to the steering column.

In the mid 1940's, turn signal
controls moved to the left of the
steering column.

The 'sequential', or scrolling
turn signal.
Rather than merely flashing,
the lights move across the car
in the direction of intended

In 1965, Ford introduced the
sequential rear turn signals as a
standard feature on the
Mercury Cougar followed
in 1967.
The Shelby GT500 also got
sequential lights in 1968.
And in 1969, Chrysler followed
with the Imperial.

In the 1980's, Light Emitting Diode
(LED) technology for turn signal
lights was introduced.
Because such lights don't depend
on lens color, they emit true

red and amber hues.

For other History such
as: The Car Radio,
The Brake System,
Windshield Wipers,
The Dashboard,
The Car Heater, and More

For Wisconsin Automobile


For Commercial Truck