You can thank Derby native Harry Haugh for speeding up the flow of traffic around those ubiquitous traffic lights that sometimes seem to control our lives. For it was Harry , a member of the Class of 1920 Scientific College at Yale who invented the control system that switches the lights from green to red to yellow. And, as you can see in his obituary below, the idea for the device originated from his own experiences at the corner of Main and Elizabeth Streets!
Interestingly, at a time when the radio and talking pictures were just coming into their own, the head of the electrical engineering department at Yale, concluded that Haugh's invention was the outstanding electrical invention of the last few years!
Obituary from the Evening Sentinel November 14, 1956 as recorded by the Derby Historical Society:
Harry A. Haugh Jr., of Orange, a native of Derby and long time resident here, who won nationwide recognition for his invention of the electromatic traffic signal, died suddenly this morning while on a business trip in Camden, N.J.
Registered at the Walt Whitman Hotel, he was taken suddenly ill and was removed to Cooper Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Mr. Haugh is survived by his wife, Mrs. Katherine Hobbs Haugh, of Race Brook Terrace, Orange, where he had resided for the past few years. Previously they had made their home on New Haven Avenue, Derby.
Henry Armour Haugh, Jr., was born May 3, 1896, in the family home at Minerva and Fifth Streets, son of the late Henry A. and Harriet E. Johnson Haugh. His father was a well known piano tuner and musician. A brother, Willard A. Haugh, died several years ago in Norwich.
Mr. Haugh was educated in the Derby Public Schools and was graduated from the Derby High School with the Class of 1915. In 1916, after working a year, he began his studies at Sheffield Scientific School at Yale from which he was graduated with a degree of electrical engineering in 1920. His high scholastic standing at the University won him recognition by Sigma Psi Kappa and Phi Beta Kappa, national honor societies. He served as an instructor the scientific school at the University for several years.
His invention of the electromatic traffic signal, which revolutionized traffic control by vehicular activation won him national acclaim. He began work on it in the early 20's.
He used to say the idea was first conceived when he observed increasing auto traffic and traffic delay under the overhead traffic signals at Main and Elizabeth Streets in his home city of Derby.
His original idea, later improved upon, has undergone improvements in later years. It provided for a strip of rubber on a highway which when passed over by a number of automobiles stored up electronic impulses which served to adjust the changes of the light to the volume of traffic in any direction.
He was associated with Eugene D. Sterling, Walter G. Garland, and Charles D. Geer, all of whom he had known at Yale, in laboratory tests and experiments which eventually led to the patenting of this traffic control system.
The Automatic Signal Corporation was organized for manufacture of the equipment in 1928.
One of the first installations was at Orange and Humphreys Streets in New Haven. It attracted wide attention at the time.
Derby, Mr. Haugh's hometown, was among the first to install this type of light which it installed at Atwater and Seymour Avenues.
The Automatic Signal Corporation originally located its factory in New Haven but some years later moved to Norwalk, and later merged with the Eastern Engineering Corporation under the name Eastern Industries, Inc., with offices at 101 Skiff Street, Hamden. It has plants in Hamden, Norwalk, and Newton, Mass.
Mr. Haugh was employed as an engineer by the company and was on a business trip for the concern when he was fatally stricken this morning.
Even as a boy, Mr. Haugh was interested in electricity and its uses and conducted many experiments. He was one of the first residents of Derby to own a wireless, which he had made himself. This was before the advent of radio bearing the spoken message. The early wireless carried Morse code signals and later international code signals.
First news of the great Titanic disaster of 1912 was picked up by Mr. Haugh directly from his wireless set. The young men was listening to press wireless reports in code from Europe when he heard word of the worst disaster in western maritime history. He told neighbors who were incredulous, for the Titanic had been heralded as unsinkable.
Mr. Haugh was quiet and reserved, but was blessed with a wonderful disposition and a delightful sense of humor that close friends found charming. He was a member of the Derby Methodist Church from boyhood.