Jamestown is seldom on the cutting edge of technology
even in the field of transportation.
The first traffic light in the world was installed
outside Parliament in Jolly Old England in 1868. The illumination for this traffic
light was a gas flame. A year later, the thing exploded and at least injured
the Bobby that was patrolling the area.
The first traffic light on this side of the pond was
installed in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1912. This one was lit with electric
lights so at least it didn’t explode. These early designs had only the red and
green colors. Evidently, yellow hadn’t been invented yet.
The first three-colored traffic lights hit the streets of
the United States in 1922. However, I don’t think it was one of this advanced
design that Jamestown installed in the fall of 1926.
Evidently, this new device was causing some confusion
among the early motorists in the area. The Jamestown police chief asked the
Jamestown Alert to run an article about the rules associated with a traffic
“Motorists must stop whenever the signal facing them says
‘Stop,’” the article said. “They can move forward when it says ‘Go.’”
Gosh, you would have thought people could have figured
that out on their own.
The advent of cars and trucks as the principle means of
transportation had to be a learning curve for everyone involved. Most of the
old traffic rules, such as don’t ride through the streets faster than a trot,
had to be thrown out and new rules for the motorized world had to be installed.
Traffic rules meant to limit incidents that would spook horses now had to
include car horns and the roar of an engine.
The same article that described the rules of the road
concerning traffic lights reminded drivers that the city ordinances required
they “sound their horn and look back when exiting a parking spot.”
Being an early motorist in Jamestown had to be a
challenge. Pavement was virtually unheard of and even the gravel roads were
limited. The technology of the cars of the 1920s required the driver to be as
much mechanic as wheel man. I’m sure that more than one early car owner
wondered whether the new fangled contraption was really a step up from the
horse and buggy.
Especially when they had to deal with the new invention,
at least as far as Jamestown was concerned, of the traffic light. And then
there were those difficult instructions like “Stop” and “Go.”