History of the Stop Sign

The STOP sign is one of the most highly recognizable signs in the world. It tells cars and motor vehicle traffic to come to a complete stop, look both ways, give right-of-way, and then proceed when safe.

If you’re like most people, you got your first introduction to the stop sign during high school Driver’s Ed class.  You learned about the various rules of the road and how pedestrians, motorcycle riders, and bicyclists should be given the right of way at a stop sign.

We’re going to look at the fascinating history of the ubiquitous stop sign and why it still plays such an essential role in our day-to-day lives.


The Early Days

A variation of the stop sign can be traced all the way back throughout history to the Egyptian, Babylonian, and even Han dynasties. Of course, it was much harder to get a speeding ticket in those days due to most people only having a 1-horsepower “vehicle.”

The modern red octagonal STOP sign has only been in existence for about 60 years.  Before 1954, there were no rules that governed the size, shape, or even color of the sign.  Most signs were the color yellow.

This color was chosen in 1922 because paint technology in those days wasn’t as good as it is today, and the color red tended to fade faster than yellow. It wasn’t until 30 years later did they start using a fade-resistant enamel which could stand up to the extreme elements decade after decade.


The Standardization Era

Before the standardization of signs, the size, shape, and color of a stop sign were usually left to the discretion of the local municipality. It wasn’t until the Mississippi Valley Association of State Highway Departments (MVASHD) took charge of the situation by creating practical and intelligent recommendations about street sign shapes, sizes, and colors.

But why the 8-sided Hexagon? Why not a triangle, trapezoid, or rectangle?

The Mississippi Valley engineers realized that the more sides a sign has, the higher the danger level it would denote.  The first highest side sign was a circle. Engineers reasoned that because circles have an infinite number of sides, and screamed out “DANGER!!!,” they should be used at railroad crossings (which were big in those days).

The second highest danger level (intersections) was reserved for the octagon. Diamond-shaped signs were reserved for warnings and rectangle/square signs were to convey information. Considering how analytical engineers are, there was a good amount of pre-thought that was put into the how’s and why’s of stop signs.


Modern Stop Signs

The contemporary stop sign comes with a bunch of rules and regulations with regards to their construction and finish.  Not any old sign shop can stamp out a metal octagonal shape, paint it red with the word “STOP” on it and install it on the streets.

The construction and installation of new stop signs are required to be based upon strict Federal MUTCD standards and State DOT requirements.  Companies that wish to manufacture and install various traffic control signage must also use pre-approved materials that are on the Washington State Qualified Product List (WSDOT QPL).


Full-Service Traffic Sign Shop

At Stripe Rite, we’re more than just a pavement marking company. We also have a full-service signage shop on premises. We take great care in making sure our signs adhere to the strict Federal and State guidelines as well as making sure the specifications and materials we use comply with the WSDOT QPL standards. If you’re looking for traffic control signage, give us a call at (253) 863-2987 or contact us via our website.