Traffic Light Viewer

Mark C. Bach
Well in a previous issue we discussed the use of sun shades and I hinted that this accessory might be helpful. Did you guess what it was?  It is the dash mounted glass prism, called the traffic light viewer.
Even if you don't have a sun shade installed, in many cars from the 40's and 50's it was a necessary accessory. I always get a laugh when I see people look at the prism and then try to figure out its purpose. But first a little traffic light history.
Back in the day (and still in some small communities) a traffic control light was installed by placing two poles diagonally across from each other on the street corners. Then the folks strung a cable high across the poles and powered up a four way traffic light in the center. Yep one light in the dead center of the intersection controlled the traffic flow. And if you were in a particularly small city late at night, one street might get a continuous flashing yellow light, while the less frequented roadway got the flashing red- meaning stop and proceed when safe.  That's how it was back in the day.
But since the light was high up in the middle of the intersection, the roofline of some cars made it difficult to tell when the light changed. So drivers at first would stoop down and twist their neck so they could see the lights. Of course that wasn't good enough and the traffic light viewer was created. In fact it often was a dealer added accessory so that drivers had an easier way to "see" the lights.
The prism made of ribbed glass was mounted on the dash, typically to the right of the driver. The glass could be angled to suit the driver but the effect was the prism would reflect the colored light from the overhead traffic light so that the drivers could tell when the light changed from red to green. Now this was not a perfect mirror image of the light, but the glass prism could reflect enough color so that a driver could tell when the color changed.
Now companies also offer the reproduction units with a suction cup or magnetic base, but the vintage, original ones were designed to be screwed into the dash for a permanent solution to a neck breaking problem.  There are also viewers made of acrylic or glass that are ground into a convex shape to reflect the light. There were also versions that mounted to the window center molding strip or the interior mirror. Plus some brands were designed to attach on the upper windshield molding and the driver could swivel it down when needed and swivel it back up out of the way when he left the city.
Now you know and can see the light!
(c) 2019 Mark C. Bach
Some photos courtesy of United Pacific
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