The History of the Stop Sign
Have you ever wondered why a stop sign is red or why it is shaped like an octagon? To help keep you safe, the stop sign has evolved over the years with a design that gets your attention more easily so you can react more quickly. Here are some facts about the history of the stop sign.
When was the first stop sign installed in the U.S.?
The first stop signs were posted in Michigan and Nebraska in 1915, says Brown University Originally, they were square-shaped, measuring 2 feet by 2 feet and featured black letters on a white background, according to Jalopnik. These plain signs may have been adequate at first since there weren’t many cars on the road, but by the 1920s, the number of cars on the road began to increase. The U.S. then standardized all stop signs to the octagonal shape that we still see today.
Why is the stop sign shaped like an octagon?
The American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) saw a few key advantages to giving the stop sign its unique shape. First, the octagonal shape makes it easy for drivers traveling in the opposite direction to recognize the sign from the back, which helps prevent confusion at intersections, according to Reader’s Digest. Second, since the original stop signs weren’t reflective, the AASHO needed a design that could be easily recognizable at night.
Was a stop sign always red?
While the stop sign’s shape has remained the same since the 1920s, it wasn’t always red like the one we see today. Multiple revisions were made, but up until the mid-1950s, stop signs generally featured a yellow background with black letters and a black outline, says Jalopnik. In 1954, the stop sign got a makeover, according to Reader’s Digest, resulting in its current look — a white outline and lettering against a red background.
It’s understandable that suddenly changing the look of a traffic sign may cause some confusion (imagine if speed limit signs were suddenly blue), but the move to a red sign was a logical one. Since stop lights are red, changing the sign’s color to red reinforced the notion that a red sign or light means “stop.”
What are stop signs like today?
Today’s stop sign stands approximately 7 feet off the ground in urban areas and 5 feet off the ground in rural locations, according to Cornell University. Stop signs are also retroreflective, which means that if your headlights shine on them, light will be reflected back toward you.
The familiar red octagonal shape of stop signs is now the standard in most of the world. Countries may use different languages, but that red octagon with a white border means the same thing in nearly all of them — stop.
Originally published on March 14, 2012.