Before the first stop sign was invented, the streets were in disarray, chaotic, and dirty. At first, there were no lane markers or speed limits. Signage of any type was rare, the exception being occasional signs signaling those on horseback of the distance to the nearest town. We have come a very long way since then, with most people having navigation available on their phones. William Phillips Eno is credited for having developed the first stop sign.
The stop sign has an interesting history. The first stop sign was developed in the state of Michigan in 1915. This was probably because Detroit was the center of the automobile manufacturing industry. It was a small black and white sign, not the red with white lettering that we have today. Also, the shape was not standardized until 1922, when the American Association of State Highway Officials met and selected the octagonal shape that we’re familiar with today. They chose the octagonal shape so that drivers seeing the back of the sign would not confuse it with any other sign. When you approach a stop sign, you know from the shape that it’s a stop sign.
Between 1935 and 1971, the original stop sign was changed a number of times. For a while, stop signs were yellow with black letters. The reflective nature of the stop sign was designed by 3M so that stop signs could be visible at night. Eventually, the yellow stop sign was changed to red to be in sync with traffic signal lights, where red indicated to stop. Originally stop signs were yellow because the designers could not find red paint that would not fade in sunlight. It was not until the late 1940s / early 1950s that stop signs were universally red.
Today the American stop sign color and design is used in many countries around the world. “Stop” is used universally throughout the world, although some countries have their own versions, and a few have the word “stop” in two languages. In Israel, the stop signs have a hand gesturing to stop. In parts of Canada, stop signs may have both French and English words on the same sign.
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