October 13, 2017
56th Anniversary of the Traffic Light Man
What began as a traffic safety measure in 1960s Berlin has become an iconic symbol of the city. Today’s Doodle by guest artist Laura Edelbacher celebrates the 56th anniversary of the Ampelmännchen (which translates to “little traffic light men”) who have guided Berlin’s pedestrians for decades.
On October 13, 1961, traffic psychologist Karl Peglau met with East Berlin’s traffic commission to present his recommendation for reducing accidents involving pedestrians. His research indicated that accidents could better be avoided if pedestrians had their own traffic lights to follow, instead of relying on the same signals used by drivers.
Karl proposed two symbols: a green figure mid-stride signaling it is safe to walk and a red figure with arms outstretched meaning “stop”. He gave the little characters distinguishing traits — including a large hat and pug nose — hoping to prompt an emotional response that would drive the intended pedestrian behavior.
The first traffic light men were installed in 1969 and were so popular they even showed up in children’s cartoons. After the Berlin Wall fell, a group of East Germans called “Rescue the Ampelmännchen” managed to save the symbols after the government attempted to remove them.
Happy 56th anniversary, Ampelmännchen!