Tulsa Time Warp Yield Sign

In this 1951 photo, Tulsa Traffic Engineer Paul Rice and Tulsa Police Capt. Clinton Riggs are pictured at the intersection of East First Street and South Columbia Avenue: the location of the world’s first yield sign.

In 1939, Oklahoma state trooper Clinton Riggs attended traffic school in Chicago to learn about traffic movement and how to reduce accidents.

In a class discussion on stop sign enforcement, Riggs proposed an alternative: a “yield” sign, signaling drivers to use their own discretion approaching a given intersection. He was met with swift disapproval by fellow classmates, but he remained convinced it would work.  

Although the “yield to right of way” traffic law existed, the physical representation of the law did not. Plus, from an officer’s perspective, it was not only hard to enforce the law, but many drivers ignored it altogether.

The idea was put on hold until 1950. Despite all advice against the concept, Riggs, now employed by the Tulsa Police Department, decided to put the sign to the test.

Without administrative approval, Riggs placed the first two “yield” signs on South Columbia Avenue nearing East First Street. Accidents decreased. According to accident reports, it was one of the most dangerous intersections in Tulsa at the time.

Soon surrounding cities and states, and even countries, began implementing the sign. The sign has evolved into the modern version, but one of Riggs’ original signs can be found at the Smithsonian.

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