First Electric Traffic Signal

Red light! Green light! No, it’s not a game, it’s the first electric traffic signal invented in Cleveland, Ohio. While there is a some debate about who is credited with the invention, two men commonly thrown around are actually both from Cleveland. The Northeast Ohio city was an appropriate location for the first traffic signals as the city streets were filled with an abundance of cars, pedestrians, bicycles, and animal-drawn wagons. The city’s growing population in the early twentieth century didn’t help the issue either.

On August 5, 1914, the American Traffic Signal Co. installed the first electric traffic signal system at the intersection of East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue. The system was designed by James Hoge.  Signs with “stop” and “move” were electronically directed by a control booth nearby. This system allowed police officers to direct the flow of traffic if there were accidents or emergencies. Hoge’s design was patented in 1918.

First Traffic Signal
Photo via: Hoge Traffic Signal


Another Clevelander, Garrett Morgan, is most well known for his invention of the traffic signal. Morgan’s traffic signal was based on a “T” shaped design. The directions included “go”, “stop”, and “stop in all directions”. The “stop in all directions” was to let pedestrians cross the street safely. Morgan’s design was patented in 1923, 5 years after Hoge’s. However due to the influence and similarities with the modern day traffic signal, Morgan is most credited for the invention. Morgan later received patents for his design in Canada and Great Britain.


first traffic signal
Photo via:



So, next time you are stuck at the obnoxiously long red light, you can thank Clevelanders, James Hoge and Garrett Morgan for their life saving invention.