Lester Wire

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Lester Wire
Photo of Lester Wire
ca. 1908
Born (1887-09-03)September 3, 1887
Died April 14, 1958(1958-04-14) (aged 70)
Resting place Salt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W / 40.7772000°N 111.858000°W / 40.7772000; -111.858000
Known for Inventor of the electric traffic light

Lester Farnsworth Wire (September 3, 1887 – April 14, 1958) is credited with the invention of the electric traffic light in 1912 in Salt Lake City. Wire worked as a detective for the Salt Lake City police force.[1] The original traffic light, based on a semaphore system, had been invented in London in 1868 by John Peake Knight but had not been a success.

The earliest known patent for a traffic light in the United States was U.S.Patent # 1,251,666 issued January 1, 1918, to J.B. Hoge of Cleveland, Ohio.[2]


Lester Wire attended Salt Lake High School. In 1909 he was enrolled in the University of Utah as a law student, which he found too expensive and quit to join the Salt Lake City Police in 1910. In 1912 he was appointed to head the first traffic squad at the age of 24 by police chief B.F. Grant.With Matthew 5:15 as his inspiration (“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all”), he created his first electric traffic signal. When the first traffic light was installed, pedestrians would yell at drivers waiting in cars for the light to change, "Are you waiting to see if the birdies will come out?" or "I saw a birdie that time; now you can go?" The traffic light became known as "Wire's bird cage" and "Wire's pigeon house."

He devised a durable metal stoplight, using the smokestack from an old locomotive engine for the frame, but without a yellow caution light. He thought of having it patented, but ended up not doing so.

In March 1963 the Wire Memorial Museum and Historical Association was started in his family home. His sister, Edith, tried to secure the original stoplight from the Tracy Aviary where it had been used as a bird house, but it had disappeared shortly after Wire's death. The original metal stoplight had been displayed in Syracuse, New York, for many years. In 1964 Edith asked if it could be returned to Utah for display in the museum, but the people in New York replied that it had been thrown out two days before her letter arrived.

Edith died in 1973. She left her inheritance to keep the museum operating, but there were not enough funds to do that. Trustees for the estate referred the problem to the courts. As a solution, the Utah State Department of Transportation agreed to use the assets of the estate to create and maintain a suitable memorial to the inventor of the traffic light. To that end, the Lester Farnsworth Wire Memorial Library was included in the new Department of Transportation building at 4501 South 2700 West in Salt Lake City.[3]


He was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery.


  1. ^ "Famous Mormon Engineers and Inventors", famousmormons.net, Ron Johnston [unreliable source?]
  2. ^ "Innovation History", The Great Idea Finder (ideafinder.com), Vaunt Design Group  |contribution= ignored (help)[unreliable source?]
  3. ^ https://familysearch.org/photos/stories/2128625