The History of the STOP Sign


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The first stop signs were developed in the late 1910’s and 1920’s. By that time the major cities, such as Detroit, were using semaphores, traffic towers, Stop and Go signs turned by hand, and other early forms of traffic signals to control traffic at congested intersections. The early STOP signs were placed at intersections where the minor street should stop for a major street.

The first STOP signs were in various shapes, color, size and legend. The Automobile Club of Wisconsin provided an early sign, from the late 1910’s, found in the city of Bessemer, MI. It was made of cast aluminum in the shape of a shield, with the legend "STOP Arterial Highway". Another early STOP sign, provided by the Automobile Club of Michigan, was circular, with red background and white letters.

In 1923, the Mississippi Valley Association of State Highway Officials agreed on a signing plan that included the following;

- Round Signs (most dangerous)
- Octagon Signs (next most dangerous)
- Diagonal Signs (less important)
- Square Signs (least important)

As a result of the Mississippi Valley Association action, the Automobile Club of Michigan furnished two-foot by four-foot octagonal "coffin shaped" signs to the City of Detroit (these had a symbolic message). Soon thereafter, the City of Detroit started using the octagonal shape we use today.

Around 1924 the Industrial Foundry Company (now Advance Castings Co.) in St. Johns, MI., manufactured cast iron "STOP - THRU HIGHWAY" signs, but due to their weight (38 lbs.) these signs were seldom used.

By 1930, the signs were made of steel and with a border and legend embossed for easier painting. In the late 1930’s, the first attempt at reflectorizing resulted in the development of "cat eyes", which were glass semi-spheres that were inserted in holes in the signs. These glass spheres, spelling out STOP or the shape of a curve, resembled cat’s eyes at night. The "cats eyes" in signs were widely used for reflectorization until the late 1940’s, when the Stimsonite Corp developed oval prismatic reflectors.

During the 1940’s, sprinkling glass beads on wet paint was gaining popularity. The reflectivity was good, except when it rained, which made this method less than desirable.

In 1953, "reflective sheeting" developed by the 3M Corp., had advanced to the point that it could be used on all traffic signs.

From 1923 to 1954, all STOP signs were required to have a black legend and border on a yellow background. This was because the yellow color had a greater visibility and durability. However, this changed in 1954, when red reflectorized sheeting had improved in visibility and durability to the extent that the red color could then be required for STOP signs.

The Bureau of Public Roads (now the Federal Highway Administration) amended the 1948 Manual of Traffic Control Devices in 1954 to require that all new STOP signs had a red background, with white legend and border. Today, all signs that have applicability at night must either be illuminated, or be fully reflectoized. The reflectorized sheeting has been greatly improved in both quality and longevity.


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