Traffic Semaphore

Public Square, 1920s

In the early 1900s, Cleveland’s busy streets were filled with horse-drawn wagons, bicycles, pedestrians, streetcars and automobiles.  Accidents were common. But in 1914, the traffic problems were so bad that the City Council considered the subject of street regulations.  Safety Director Alfred Benesch was sent to the east coast to study the methods implemented there.   According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Urban traffic conditions have developed in recent years faster than the authorities could devise means of handling them.  The multiplication of automobiles, for one thing, has put upon the police duties which could not be foreseen and which, except for the automobile, might never have developed.  And the continued growth of that industry, with increasing popularity of its product, makes the problem of controlling and directing street traffic more and more difficult.”

Cleveland Police Officers have always been resourceful in finding ways to make their tasks more efficient but also easier.  Patrolman James Ketcham #299, who was assigned to the Mounted Unit, invented a device to help him control traffic.  The Plain Dealer described it as a “machine is equipped with cross arms to be raised or lowered by the traffic patrolman to direct vehicles.”  Patrolman Ketcham gave presentations explaining the device at the Cleveland Auto Club daily to educate the public.

The Cleveland Police used traffic semaphores to bring order and safety to our streets.  The officer set up the semaphore in the middle of the intersection and controlled the flow of traffic by manually rotating the semaphore with its “Stop” and “Go” arms.  If needed, the officer could add options like “No Left Turn” or No Right Turn.” The officer also used hand and whistle signals.

Patrolman Robert Kern, #560, in all weather gear, 1920
Patrolman Clayton E. White, #947
Patrolman Frank Milota, Sr., #343

Although electric traffic lights replaced semaphores at many intersections in Cleveland, semaphores remained in use into the 1970s.  Easy to use and easy to transport, semaphores were ideal for controlling vehicle and pedestrian traffic for major events at Cleveland Stadium, Public Square and other venues in the city. 

Euclid Avenue, 1922

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