Oddly enough, traffic lights preceded automobiles, and even electricity. They were operated manually by small children inside the boxes (pre-child labor reform), the cost of which became, like, a huge part of the county/state/national debt. That was of course, when the Children’s Labor Stop Light Union (CLSLU) was formed, leading to the Children’s Revolt of 1901. You know the rest—stray packs of children ruling city streets, flipping cars, burning papier-mâché traffic lights in effigy. We preserve this tradition now by occasionally covering stop lights with trash bags and having cops manually direct traffic. So next time your grandpa slanders the gadgetry of modern society, whip out this neat little analog gem.
By then, subsidiaries of the ideal traffic light had already popped up in Houston, Detroit, and a few Ohio towns. In the 50s, the rise of the computer revolutionized traffic regulation. With the electric grid established, infrastructure became solid, and the weight was back on design. The machine’s colors were long since standardized—changed from Red, White, and Blue to Red, Yellow, and Green (decreed by President William Howard Taft when the first traffic light appeared in 1910 in Chicago, after he became enamored with Rastafarianism on a vacation to Jamaica (though he too rejected the ‘-ism’s of Babylon)). Today, it’s nearly impossible to go to any developed country without seeing one of the varying styles of traffic lights that now exist.
Once self-driving cars become the standard, traffic lights will most likely be preserved in our collective memory by parties where wearing green = single, red = taken, but partygoers won’t really understand why.