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Driving along our daily commutes, we rely on street signs.Whether you're going across the street or across the country, chances are you'll use a sign to help you navigate. But have you ever wondered when and how we started using these helpful signs, and how they've changed over the years?Read this brief history of street signs to curb your curiosity.

Before Vehicles

Street signs date all the way back to the ancient Roman highways. At the peak of the Roman Empire, there were 62,000 miles of roads.Roman leaders called for the construction of signs to be placed along the road indicating mileage, rest areas, and service stations for passing travelers and armies. These signs were made of stone, weighed 4,400 pounds, and were named“milestones”.

During the Middle Ages, road signs were used at intersections and displayed both directions and the distance to nearby towns. In 1684 Britain passed a law requiring each community to put up guideposts.

 The Emergence ofBicycles

In 1817, Baron Von Drais invented what is considered to be the forerunner to today's bicycle. Over the years the vehicle was tweaked to make traveling faster and smoother. As the use of the bicycle became more popular, the need for street signs grew and changed. Bicycle-friendly areas began adding signs that warned cyclists of steep hills and dangerous turns.England alone added around 4,000 signs by the end of the 19thcentury.

After Cars

The invention of automobiles drastically increased the need for street signs. Helpful drivers placed directional signs along the roads as early as 1899.

The very first stop sign was placed in Detroit, Michigan in1915. The three-colored traffic light appeared five years later.

Standardized Street Signs

By 1922, a few states made efforts to make road markings and street signs more uniform across the country. Representatives from Indiana,Minnesota, and Wisconsin came up with a system that linked the shape of road signs to their intended messages:

     Square-shaped signs meant caution or attention

     A rectangle marked mileage and speed limits

     Diamond-shaped road signs indicated a curve ahead

     An octagon shape was used for stop signs

     Round signs were used at railroad crossings

These recommendations became the basis for all standardized street signs across the country. They became official in 1935 and were simplified in 1948.

Modern Signs

Today, we have advanced technology that allows us to navigate the roads with convenience. Computerized signs with rotating messages, talking crosswalks, and high-tech reflecting signs help us travel efficiently and keep us safe. The Department of Transportation ensures that the whole country is using the same signs so we can recognize them from state to state. So next time you're on a road trip, take a second to recognize the importance and the rich history of street signs.

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