Shropshire Star

Midlands' pioneering 'robots' which gave traffic green light

Lights, speed cameras, action...

A police officer admires Birmingham’s first ‘robot traffic policeman’

Wolverhampton made its mark in motoring history when it became the first place in Britain to introduce automated traffic lights. That was back in November 1927, at the junction of Lichfield Street and Princess Square.

But what about Birmingham? We've delved into our photographic archive to uncover this historic picture of that city's entry into a field of traffic management which is now approaching 100 years old and has stood the test of time.

A police officer admires Birmingham's first "robot traffic policeman"

The original caption read: "Birmingham's first robot traffic policeman. The first of Birmingham's new traffic signals which are to dispense with traffic policemen at various points of the city.

"The fact that they are robots has been pronounced by surmounting the signal with a replica of the famous spike worn on the helmet of every policeman in the town."

As you can see, they were an impressive ornate contraption, almost a work of art. But what are those things dangling beneath the lights?

Alas, we have neither the exact location – it looks suburban, rather than in the city centre – nor the date, although presumably it would have been a couple of years or so after Wolverhampton had led the way.

The pioneering Wolverhampton lights drew on experience in America, Canada, and Germany. Unlike traffic lights we are familiar with today, they were suspended above the road by a wire in the American fashion, rather than being on posts.

They followed the red, yellow, green sequence which is universal, although that was not a given as it was noted that in New York the yellow light (i.e. amber) had been dropped when motorists became used to the system.

Quite a large crowd turned up to watch them being experimentally switched on.

"For about five minutes the signals were worked to synchronise with those of the police officer on point duty," the Express & Star reported.

"Motorists soon noted the new device, and everything went smoothly until the red lamp in the box failed, and the experiment had to be concluded."

Those traffic lights were dismantled in 1968 and replaced by a more modern system.