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The ‘Father of traffic safety’ never had learned to drive a vehicle himself!

by Sushree Mohanty

The ‘Father of traffic safety’ never had learned to drive a vehicle himself!

June 27, 2021

Meet William Phelps Eno! The man, who invented the stop signs, the pedestrian crosswalk, the one-way street, the traffic circle, the taxi stand, and pedestrian safety rules. The man never learned how to drive.

Early life of William Phelps Eno

On June 3, 1858, William Phelps Eno, born in a wealthy family of businessmen and politicians in New York City, was the youngest child of Amos Richards Eno and his wife, Lucy Jane Phelps Eno. 

He attended Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven, Connecticut, one of the oldest independent secondary schools in the United States. In 1882, he graduated from Yale University. He was a member of the influential Association of Skull and Bones during his graduation years.

Although William Eno carried forward his family’s real estate business, he always had an inclination towards transportation that led him to concentrate on traffic reform during his spare time.

william-phelps-eno-scoolbuzz
On June 3, 1858, William Phelps Eno, born in a wealthy family of businessmen and politicians in New York City, was the youngest child of Amos Richards Eno and his wife, Lucy Jane Phelps Eno. 

The Story Behind His Traffic-Control Innovations

Before the invention of a motor vehicle, when William Eno was only 9 years old in 1867, he and his mother were caught in a traffic jam in New York City. A dozen horses and carriages were on the streets, causing this traffic jam. Amidst the traffic jam, all seemed confused as nobody knew what to do. Eno realized that an orderly transportation and traffic-control rule was needed to keep the traffic moving. 

This particular event struck inside the memory of a 9-years-old kid. This thought would always provoke and motivate him to come up with all of his inventions in the field of traffic safety. In 1899, he left the real estate business at the age of 40. He then devoted the rest of his life to pioneering and implementing his ideas and concepts for orderly transportation. 

In 1900, William Eno published his famous paper entitled Reform in Our Street Traffic Urgently Needed. In 1903, he designed the Road Traffic Regulations for New York. Thus, at the beginning of the 20th century, he became an internationally recognized pioneer and a key figure in the field of traffic control and regulations.

He invented the first traffic plans for New York City, London, and Paris. He led an argument that it’s necessary to follow traffic rules and regulations that we sometimes take for granted. His famous innovations include stop signs, taxi stands, one-way streets, traffic circles, and pedestrian safety islands.

The Father of Traffic Safety

After World War 1, William Eno was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government because his traffic-control system helped and allowed the French Army to speed 60,000 troops to Verdun and avoid the tide of the war.

In 1921, the Eno Foundation for Highway Traffic Control, popular as the Eno Center for Transportation, was established. It is a nonprofit foundation to promote road safety. The “Father of traffic safety,” died of bronchopneumonia on December 3, 1945, at the age of 87.

William Phelps Eno is responsible for many early innovations in the field of road safety and traffic control, thus he was known as the “Father of traffic safety.” However, he himself never learned to drive a car. Sounds strange right?

Although not learning how to drive was his personal choice, William Eno was a fan of horseback riding and didn’t show much interest in learning to drive an automobile. However, some claim that he never learned to drive, maybe because he always relied on a chauffeur.

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