The Reason Why Stop Signs Are Red

Roman_Gorielov, iStock/Getty Images Plus
Roman_Gorielov, iStock/Getty Images Plus

Why is red the standard color for stop signs? The short answer is this: because the representatives of the First National Conference on Street and Highway Safety in 1924 decided so.

Though stop signs were still a relatively new idea in the United States back in the 1920s—Detroit erected the first one around 1915, Jalopnik reports—the “red means ‘stop’” custom dates back to 1841, when Henry Booth of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway suggested using red to indicate danger on railroads. London then adopted the color for its regular traffic lights in 1868, and the United States eventually followed suit.

The First National Conference on Street and Highway Safety, called by then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover in 1924, aimed to standardize the color coding of road signage. It established that for all “signs and signals, both luminous and nonluminous,” red should indicate “stop,” green should indicate “proceed,” and yellow should indicate “caution,” according to the report released after the conference [PDF]. It was also decided that distance and direction signs should be black and white.

That all probably sounds familiar if you’ve ever seen a street before, but implementing the mandate for red stop signs posed immediate issues. A red material that wouldn’t fade over time just didn’t exist in 1924, Gene Hawkins, a professor of civil engineering at Texas A&M University, told The New York Times in 2011. So the writers of the 1935 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices chose the next best thing: yellow. The manual also specified that every sign should be octagonal, another idea from the 1920s.

California was first to figure out that porcelain enamel would resist fading and erect red stop signs across the state, a practice noticed and addressed in the 1954 revision [PDF] to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Now that red was more logistically feasible, the committee in charge of updating the manual decided there should be no more yellow stop signs.

We don’t know exactly why Henry Booth and other early industrialists felt that red aptly signaled “stop.” Maybe they thought it was harder to overlook than blue or green, which natural surroundings like water and foliage might easily camouflage. Maybe they felt red, like fire or blood, just went along well with danger.

There may also be a deeper reason. When, as part of a 2011 study, red-, blue-, and green-clad human experimenters offered apple slices to individual monkeys in a free-range facility, the monkeys seemed to have an aversion to taking slices left by the experimenter wearing red. Perhaps our association of danger with the color red has a psychological basis we don’t fully understand yet.

[h/t Jalopnik]

We've All Been Riding Escalators Wrong, According to the Manufacturers

Rattankun Thongbun/iStock via Getty Images
Rattankun Thongbun/iStock via Getty Images

If you live in a city, you probably know that the "rules of the road" when it comes to riding escalators are similar to those on an actual road—and should be taken just as seriously. Stand in the right lane, walk in the left lane, and never, ever block traffic by stationing yourself between the two.

But what if we told you that the one clueless tourist with a hand on each rail and a foot in each lane was actually riding the escalator correctly? According to the CBC, escalator manufacturer Otis Elevator Company recommends that “users stand in the middle of the escalator with hands on both railings for maximum safety.”

Lifehacker pointed out that Otis’s official list [PDF] of safety advice online doesn’t expressly mention using both handrails, but does encourage people to “keep a steady grip on the handrail” and “stand in the center of the step and face forward.” However, even if the passenger in front of you is standing in the middle with just one hand on a rail, you still wouldn’t have an easy time continuing your uphill climb without asking them to move.

Speaking of your uphill climb (or downhill march), it’s less efficient than you think it is. While choosing to walk might shave a few seconds off your personal commute, studies have shown that if all people stood, using both escalator lanes instead of leaving one for walking, the machine could ferry about 31 extra passengers per minute.

It’s not the only argument against walking on escalators. The CBC cites studies in Japan and China that suggest walkers not only increase the likelihood of escalator accidents, but they also contribute to the degeneration of the machines themselves.

While speed-walking city slickers might balk at the idea of standing still, hopefully this information will at least help them view stationary rail-huggers as safety-conscious citizens rather than oblivious nuisances.

[h/t Lifehacker]

The Reason Why No Photography is Allowed in the Sistine Chapel

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

As the home of some of the greatest works of art produced by humanity, the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City is a popular tourist destination (to put it mildly). If you've been one of the 4 million visitors to the famous landmark each year, you've probably learned of one aspect of the room filled with Michelangelo's beautiful, biblical frescos that tends to come as a surprise to first-time guests.

There's no photography or video allowed in the Sistine Chapel.

Yes, despite the rules that encourage quiet contemplation of the fantastic, eye-popping art that adorns nearly every inch of the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, visitors to the chapel will find their experience peppered with terse shouts of “No photo! No video!” from security guards. The prohibition against photography has been in place for several decades, and while many assume that the no-photography rule is in place to prevent the flashing of cameras from affecting the art, the real reason dates back to the restoration of the chapel's art that began in 1980 and took nearly 20 years to complete.

Restoration of Daniel in the Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain in the United States

When Vatican officials decided to undertake a comprehensive restoration of Michelangelo's art in the chapel, the price tag for such an endeavor prompted them to seek outside assistance to fund the project. In the end, the highest bidder was Nippon Television Network Corporation of Japan, whose $3 million offering (which eventually ballooned to $4.2 million) was unmatched by any entity in Italy or the U.S.

In return for funding the renovation, Nippon TV received the exclusive rights to photography and video of the restored art, as well as photos and recordings of the restoration process by photographer Takashi Okamura, who was commissioned by Nippon TV. While many initially scoffed at the deal, the high-resolution photos provided by Nippon offered a hyper-detailed peek behind all of the scaffolding that hid each stage of restoration, and eventually won over some critics of the arrangement.

As a result of the deal, Nippon produced multiple documentaries, art books, and other projects featuring their exclusive photos and footage of the Sistine Chapel restoration, including several celebrated collections of the photographic surveys that informed the project.

The ban on photography within the chapel remains in effect despite the waning of the terms of Nippon's deal. In 1990, The New York Times reported that Nippon's commercial exclusivity on photos expired three years after each stage of the restoration was completed. For example, photos of Michelangelo's epic depiction of Last Judgment were no longer subject to Nippon's copyright as of 1997, because that stage of the restoration was completed in 1994.

For the record, Nippon has stated that their photo ban did not apply to "ordinary tourists," but for simplicity's sake—lest some professional photog disguised himself in Bermuda shorts and socks and sandals—authorities made it an across-the-board policy.

Last Judgment in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain in the United States

The “No Photos! No Video!” rule remains in place for the Sistine Chapel (though as some recent visitors can attest, its enforcement isn't exactly strict). Given the damage that can be caused by thousands of cameras' flashes going off in the chapel each day, it's no surprise that Vatican officials decided not to end the ban when Nippon's contract expired.

After all, the chapel houses some of the greatest art in the world—and a gift shop stocked with souvenir photos, of course.

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