The world’s first traffic light was put into use on December 10, 1868 in London at Parliament Square. It was made up of tow signs on pivoting arms that were hand controlled by a lever, operated by a police officer. At the top of the signal was a light to light up the arm for visibility. Bad news…less than 60 days later, the gas light exploded and killed the officer who was operating the device.
In Paris in 1923, an electric traffic light was installed. It was successful, and lights began popping up at a few major cities: Berlin and Milan at first. Pensacola installed a light before London, Rome, Prague or Barcelona.
The first traffic light in Pensacola was installed at the intersection of Garden and Palafox Street and put into use on the morning of Sunday, December 20, 1925. The Pensacola News Journal educated the public about the light, “There are three lights in the instrument, red, green and yellow. The red means stop, the green, go ahead: and the yellow means watch for the signal to change. A bell will ring when the yellow light is switched on.”
A practice run was accomplished the day before, on Saturday for a short time. Police Commissioner Earnest Harper was interviewed about the new traffic control device. He said, “If the light is a success, others will be installed on other corners in Pensacola.”
A month later, the device was working so well that the city purchased two others which were placed at intersections on Palafox Street – one at Romana and one at Government.
It didn’t take long. On Monday, February 22, 1926, Charles Phelps was made to appear before Judge Fabisinski on a charge of disregarding the traffic light at the corner of Palafox and Garden Streets. He was fined $5 and costs. A new era in law enforcement had begun.