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Recall Lights

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EVER EVER EVER Motto Divder

Recall Light System
recall72

With Traffic Signals and Supervised by John A. Martin, the Superintendent
Progress as Told here by Superintendent Martin
 
Every story has a beginning, so let's go back to January 1918, when John Martin Superintendent of Baltimore's Telephone and Signal Division first obtained his position as a Lineman with the Baltimore Police Department. At that time there was a Lieutenant and a Sergeant acting as the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of the Telephone and Signal Division, five linemen. They used one truck and two touring cars for construction and maintenance of the entire system.
 
The equipment to be maintained was 265 Call boxes, eight telephone switchboards, 800 Bluestone gravity batteries, 15 bank alarms, for pawnbroker alarms, eight station houses and approximately 181,665 feet of underground telephone cable.  This was before the addition of the Southeast District which didn't come about until 1959. Along with the, then 8 Districts, there was all of this equipment which to the best of Superintendent Martin's knowledge had been in service 25 to 30 years before 1918 and was still operating reasonably well while he was directing the Division Circa 1921/22. At that time except for the timestamps and registers which were all printed with ink and at times would be impossible to define one call box number from another as the ink was known to smear and spread over the recorded tape.
Our police telephone switchboards worked on what was known then as the target type and operated as follows; when a patrolman wanted to make a telephone call, he would pull down the lever marked telephone and lift the receiver. This would release a target on the telephone switchboard that was numbered one, two, three, etc. corresponding to let communications know from which circuit he was calling. The target was about the size of a silver dollar, and when released it would show that the patrolman wanted to talk over that circuit. This method of signaling was not very satisfactory, especially when the patrolman had a prisoner alongside him at the box. Often the target which fell by gravity would fail, as it would not fall. Consequently, there would be no indication at the switchboard that the patrolman wanted or needed assistance. The only other method he could use would be to pull the lever on the wagon call, but this signal was not audible and would only register on the tape that a wagon call was needed. This often caused considerable delay in dispatching the wagon or getting the much-needed assistance to the patrolman.
 
At that time there were no means of notifying the officer in the district of an emergency or that he was wanted to communicate with headquarters. Unlike today or even after the "Recall Light" was introduced, in which an officer can be told to either call the station or call communications.
 
In the year of 1921, thirty-six years after the introduction of the call box General Charles Gaither had an idea that would be implemented making the call box a much better piece of equipment for communications with the officers on patrol, and station houses all over the city. From the advent and installation of a signal light, this took place (it would later come to be known as a Recall Light) The first of these "blinking" lights was mounted on a call box in the Central District located on the southeast corner of Baltimore and Charles Streets. The signal was made up of an electric light bulb, a wash basin to shade the bulb and protect it from the elements, such as rain, snow, animals and other types of debris. Along with the lamp, and wash basin was also a marine lens or globe.
 
The mechanism for the operation of this light was located in the old central police station on Saratoga Street near Charles Street and consisted of an alarm clock to provide the flashing apparatus.
 
This method of notifying an officer that he was wanted, proved to be very successful at the time. The department would eventually install 269 of the recall lights throughout the city. As was described, the first of these blinking lights, like many prototypes were very primitive and met with many upgrades and improvements over the next 50 years before the end of its use in the 1980's.  On a much more improved pattern than that first lamp, the final recall system would consist of a commercial signal flasher made by  The Russell & Stoll Company. The lamp atop each call box wired to a switchboard within each district's station house, which carried 110 V to each recall light and was operated with either a continuous or flashing light that was controlled by the telephone operator in each of the then nine districts. 
It should be noted that the idea for the "Recall Light" was sparked, like many good ideas, from a need to solve a problem. At the time Commissioner Gaither realizing we needed a better way to get in touch with an officer on the beat than hourly call-ins. With this, he sought a way of providing a faster emergency response time to the citizens of Baltimore when they needed us. 
 
Gaither wanted a way for officers to more quickly pass along information about wanted suspects, or wanted persons that might be fleeing police so we could virtually shut down their escape route. While contemplating this problem, he was also working on an issue that dealt with traffic control. One of the things that he started working on almost immediately after his taking the oath of Baltimore's first solo Police Commissioner. It seems from all documents and newspaper reports that Gaither's first significant project was one that caused a little anger within the community. It was a project in which he ended a Semaphore station at several intersections that produced such push-back from the neighborhoods affected that he had to rethink his take, and in fact, admit he was wrong and re-institute those corners giving back their traffic control. 
 
He was a General in the National Guard and knew how to turn what seemed like a failure to many, into his looking successful for listing to the community and giving them what they wanted, and what they needed. So where many would have lost faith, because he made it seem as if he was ready to listen, and not just bring it back, but bring it back better. He gained faith and built a closer alliance with the neighborhoods he served. 
 
The problem started when he shut down most of the Semaphore (manual traffic control stations, these being the predecessor to the traffic light.)  Initially, the Semaphore was a pole with what was called a GO-GO-STOP-STOP signal affixed to the top. Eventually, a railroad handheld type lantern would be fashioned to the top of this to illuminate Red and Green lamps that corresponded with the GO-GO-STOP-STOP portion of the sign. Because the lamp was higher and constructed with large round pans that were also painted in corresponding colors, Green and Red.. it was easily seen from a distance, and with the lamp lit, as dusk and or dawn approached drivers could more easily see the direction given by the officer. 
 
With the use of a single lamp, surrounded by four lenses and four large dishes. When turned 90 degrees left or right, approaching traffic to the intersection from East or West might see a Red lamp; while the traffic approaching from North and South would be presented with a Green lamp. By simply turning the pole 90-degrees forward or backward, the East and Westbound traffic at that same intersection would now see Green, while the North and Southbound incoming traffic would be seeing Red. (Any pun you might take from that last line, was not intentionally written, but if it makes you laugh, I will take full credit!)
 
Because of the success of this, a universal traffic light system would be established across the country using the same color codes with an automatic traffic lamp system. Gen. Gaither was opposed to a two-color traffic light system and went up against several other cities many of which were considered as strong opposition. Aside from those cities, he was also going up against the National Chiefs of Police Association. But Gaither had well-researched ideas and the National Safety Board (Those that initially issued the green Safe Drivers Awards Officers used to get in patrol.) Gaither wanted a third color; in analyzing the Semaphore system, he talked to officers that worked these corners, he sat back and observed the men working intersections, and he realized the need for a third phase in the lighting. Gaither knew without a third lamp; we would have vehicles turning left stranded in the intersection, as well as pedestrians in the crosswalk at risk of being struck or without a right of way. So he fault for, and eventually along with many others obtained that third phase (amber light). 
 
This is important to the recall light because, with these lights in mind, he had a problem with a much-needed cure, so he began blending the two problems, and then came an "aha moment." He was a new Commissioner, and in learning about the current systems, he happened upon a blinking light system already in use. At the time, lamps hung outside most of Baltimore's financial institutions, and when a robbery was taking place, someone inside would trip a switch activating the blinking light outside. Police would see the flashing light alerting them to the trouble inside. With this, they would notify other police and set up a perimeter to catch the suspects as they were leaving.  
 
Gaither realized this was the concept he needed, but on a much larger and much more complicated scale. What the department needed, unlike the banks that had just one bank with one switch connected to one lamp outside. We would need a similar system but connected to eight station houses each with as many as 30 to 35 call boxes each with its own light. These boxes and lights would be spread out across the eight districts throughout the city, with a single operator flipping a switch causing a lamp to blink at one of the nearly 270 call boxes to notify that one patrolman on his post that he was needed right then and there. 
 
The first recall light was put into place in September of 1922. This first lamp was painted green to match the existing call boxes, lamp posts, and other city-owned properties. Like most everything painted by the city having an intent to both save money and blend in with the surroundings, it was a dark green, a little darker than Kelly Green, but lighter than Forest Green. I think it is best described by many as a Dumpster Green. 
 
When a patrolman was wanted the lamp above his call box would "flash," and it continued to blink until the telephone inside the box was removed from its hook. The lenses or globes on the first recall lights were "Red." This came as a result of the department using salvaged parts from the Marine Unit, Radio Shop, and other bits and pieces being retrieved throughout various units within the department. But a problem that was noticed almost right away and would have to be corrected Gaither didn't want Red or Green lenses/globes. Remember he was working on the traffic light system and didn't want anyone from a distance confusing the recall lamp with a traffic lamp. Some might be confused in reading they passed on Red and Green but went with an Amber lens, coming from the guy that was fighting for an Amber light on the traffic light system. Anyone that has seen am Amber recall light, might describe it as Brown, while we all know anyone describing an Amber traffic light might call it a Yellow light. The two Amber lights couldn't have been more different, and this created no issues in the mind of Commissioner Gaither.
 
Once they had the system working the way they wanted it to work. They purchased commercial lamps made to their specifications from The Russell & Stoll Company.  The original lamps were made of a cast iron; later we switched to having the same lamp but made of brass. 
 
In our collection, we have one of the original prototypes lamps, one of the first cast iron Russell & Stoll lamps, and two of the Russell & Stoll's brass lamps. The older of the three, Russell & Stoll lamps is the one that is cast iron; it's painted green. The two brass are unpainted, one has a patina from weather leaving it the color of the Statue of Liberty, and final was mounted on a board by the departments' construction and repair unit, making a desk lamp or display piece out of it. It was owned by a Lieutenant, former member of the US Navy; he couldn't leave the brass tarnished, so he polished it to a beautiful shine. I am sure he would be disappointed, as I have not carried on his tradition.  I like the natural rust and tarnish of history.
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POLICE SOON READY WITH NEW ALARMS

 5 Sept 1922

POLICE SOON READY WITH NEW ALARMS
"Recall System" Will Be Completed

In Two Districts Early Next Week.

PLANS CITY-WIDE EXTENSION

Gaither hopes to have All Baltimore Covered by Light
Signals next Year.

After delays and complications for more than six months the new police "recall system" will be completed early next week [17 Sept 1922] in the Central and Western districts, it was announced yesterday by Charles D. Gaither, Commissioner of Police. This system, conceived by the Commissioner, will be official, it has been approoved after its trial and will be established throughout the city by next year, Mr. Gaither said, providing an appropriation permits it.

Having been tested through experiments with the call-box at Baltimore and Charles streets and in outlying sections of the Northern District, the system is regarded as feasible and satisfactory and is expected to aid in the quick capture of criminals. Through the "Recall" patrolmen all over the city can be summoned immediately and instructions were given to the entire force at one time.

How System Works

All police call boxes in the Central and Western Districts are being equipped with a "red light" projecting over the top of the box. A cable connects with the series of boxes to the respective districts and with headquarters. When a patrolman is wanted his box is "flashed." And the light blinks until the telephone receiver is removed from the hook. If the entire force is wanted every box flashes simultaneously until answered. Under the present system, there are no means of obtaining communication with patrolmen on the street. The policemen call their respective districts every hour and between the hours of call unless someone is dispatched to call the officer wanted. There are no means of locating him. When the light flashes the officer will know that his district wants him and he will answer.

City-Wide System is Good

“The plan is a good one. I think.” commented Mr. Gaither ... “and by next year we hope to have the system installed in all of the eight districts. If all of our appropriations is sufficient this will be done. We were delayed this year when we received the wrong equipment and had trouble in obtaining the correct cable. The siren system, as established in New York banks, was commended by the Commissioner. Banks in downtown New York have been equipped with huge horns that are blown in cases of robbery or hold-ups, and attention is immediately attracted to that point. The idea could be adopted here advantageously.”

Gaither suggested this program and it was not only successful here in Baltimore, but it was a system that would be adopted by departments up and down the East Coast.

Notes - In the article it says these lights would be "RED," they may have started out red and in fact, when the program ended in or about 1985/86 we had one or two red lenses, along with one blue lens, the rest of these recall lenses were a dark almost brown amber color. The lenses or globes were made to be used in the maritime industry on things like buoy, ship lanterns, and for other types of nautical globe uses. A Fresnel lens was the type lenses used. Fresnel lenses were compact lenses originally developed by a French physicist named Augustin-Jean Fresnel; they were originally designed for use on lighthouses. A Fresnel lens could capture more oblique light from a light source, allowing the light from a lighthouse or other light source using the Fresnel lens to be visible over greater distances. While not 100% the same as the Fresnel lens, another place we found a use for adding a design to glass to give a better reflective nature was on the traffic light. These older Fresnel lenses/globes can be hard to find and expensive. A replacement globe was recently purchased from a Maritime Salvage Company for more than $100 it was red in color and we were told if we wanted Amber or Blue it could cost as much as 4 to 5 times what we paid for the red globe.

Interesting Sidenote - When the Recall System went into effect, patrolmen were said to have offered neighborhood kids a small reward to be the first to locate the officer and notify him of the light's activation. With this officers were building a rapport with the community while patrolling his post.

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Police Find Magic In Blinker System

24 September 1922

Test of the New Device Creates a Command for General use Over the City

Protection is Increased

A woman at switch can summon all patrolman of the district with 35 recall lights

A week ago today police of the Central District began operating the new police recall system. Yesterday every uniform man from the inspector to patrolman was enthusiastic over the results. The first week of the “blinkers” has created a demand from other districts that the system is installed immediately.

Action in reaching the men on the street has been facilitated, greater speed and broadcasting information has been attained any more perfect cooperation between the man patrolling his post and his headquarters has been created.

The central police district is a large one. The line runs from liberty Street to Park Avenue, 2 Preston St., to Maryland Avenue, to North Avenue, 2 Greenmount Ave., to Forrest Street, 2 Orleans St., to ask with Street, 2 Baltimore St., to W. Falls Ave. to Pratt Street. In this area, there are 39 patrol boxes. 35 recall lights have been installed.

Woman operates system

The light is a small green one surmounting the patrol box. From her desk, at central police station Miss Mae A. Little, telephone operator, can get into communication with the police within two minutes. The lights are also within view of to patrolman in the southern district and two men in the Northern District – men whose post touch the borderline of the Central District.

The police have instructed that one of the first duties is to watch the Queen globe. In the district headquarters on Saratoga Street, near Charles Street, there are four circuits, one for each quarter of the district. On information received from police headquarters or other district headquarters, Mrs. Little throws a switch. This immediately lights the green lights on the patrol boxes, which begin blinking. The patrolmen are expected to answer at once.

Patrolman found quickly

The switchboard is so constructed that Miss Little may call either the entire district or any quarter section required. Demonstrating the efficiency of the system yesterday she through this which calling the entire district. In 20 seconds 13 patrolmen answered. Others quickly followed until every man in the district had answered. The last man had responded to the system within four minutes.

Last June 6 blinkers were installed in the Northern police district. They were located throughout the district. Mrs. Bessie Cronin was the operator in charge of the Blinker System. With the system installed in the eight-station houses of the time, a Central Bureau is expected to be established at police headquarters building from which information can be broadcast to the districts from headquarters simultaneously. Light colors, We know from reports that these lamps were first made, “In-house” by our machinist and the machine shops within the Baltimore Police department. They built these lamps using suggestions from then Commissioner Charles D. Gaither. Gaither was wealthy and often used money out of his own pocket to get his ideas across. He once paid the entire police force out of his pocket, while he waited for their payroll to clear, at the time it was around $144K that is over $2 million in today's money. Not wanting to put too much money into a concept that was untested, he suggested they used spare parts from around the agency. Seeing as it had to withstand the elements of Baltimore’s weather conditions, they first turned to the Marine Unit looking for the best outdoor lighting. From there they began looking toward other departments and units within the agency. First, the lamps were made. We know from other articles they used, regular light bulbs, a maritime glass lens, using what is sometimes called a Fresnel lantern lens. To this, they added clock parts from an alarm clock, and a switchboard from Gamewell system that was spare parts from the radio/communication Division all of this was tied into a ticker tape, telegraph type machine that was run from police headquarters. We later read about various color lights, Red, Blue, Amber, and Green. From research, eyewitness accounts, and memorabilia purchased or donated to our collection; we have confirmed Amber, Red, and Blue. I should point out that the Amber used in this system was more of a dark “Brown” than that of the “Amber” lights we see or think of from a traffic device.

This is important because around the time the Recall System was being developed; Gaither was struggling to have a “Uniform Traffic Light System,” recognized nationwide. He wanted one standard system with three colors, Red, Amber, and Green. We know he didn’t want, Red or Green used in his Recall System. In fact, the only reason Amber would have even been considered was as we have already discussed the Amber used on the Recall System, and the Amber used in the Traffic Light system were two very different colors. The Amber on the Recall System has often been described as Brown, while the Amber of a Traffic Light is frequently defined as Yellow.

Q&A - So why would a newspaper report these Recall Lights as having been, Green? Having four of these lamps in our private collection, and one in the museum downtown, we feel one possible reason for this error could be as follows. Of our four Recall lights, two have original paint. Likewise, the one in the museum was repainted to match the original paint it had on it when they started to refurbish it. The paint on the lamps is the same as the paint on the Baltimore Call Box, and that paint is a green color that is typically found on a dumpster or lamp post in Baltimore. So when the reporter is writing of a green lamp, he is referring to the color of the lamp, not the color of the light or the lens.

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Finds an Alleged Stolen Car Just as he Gets Report

27 November 1927

Police Sgt. Arrest Port Clinton (Pa.) Man, Who is Said to Admit Theft

Sgt. Frederick corn, of Southwest district, was standing at the corner of Carrollton Avenue and Baltimore Street last night when he saw a green police light flash. Answering his box, he was given the number of an automobile bearing a Pennsylvania license plate reported to have been stolen. As he hung up the receiver and turned around to watch traffic the machine he had been told to look out for drove up in front of him and stopped at the red traffic light.

At the Southwestern police station where Sgt. Korn took the car and its occupants, the driver identified himself as Harry Hines, 21, of Port Clinton, Pennsylvania, and, according to the police, confessed having stolen the car in Port Clinton. The automobile it was said, belongs to Charles W. Grief of Port Clinton.

Four other men were in the car at the time the arrest was made. Hines was held on a charge of theft.

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cowboz

Runaway Cow Center of one Animal Rodeo

14 October 1928

Bovine hit by two autos and streetcar bumps tree and charges children

Amber police lights in a southwestern district flashed at 1030 o’clock last night. As each patrolman answered, he was instructed to “watch for a wild cow.”

Meanwhile, residents of the district were spectators of a one animal rodeo show, and the cow, which escaped from a herd at Brunswick Street and Wilkins Avenue, continued on its way.

Witnesses reported it was bumped by two automobiles and a streetcar and ran head down into a tree. At Gilmore and lumbered streets, several men tried to hold its progress by swinging on its tail.

Patrolman Edward Twelve finally subdued the breathless animal at Highlands and Calhoun streets, after it had attempted to charge a group of children. The cow was turned over to its owner, Edward W. Bartlett, at the bank and Third streets

 

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Recall Lights Out

30 August 1936

All lights of the recall system – the blinker method of calling patrolman to their post boxes – were put out in the Central District. Police were unable to say whether lightning or floodwater caused the interruption.

Lightning fired a barn on Dekol Farm, the estate of Luther J. Pierpont, on the Johnny Cake Rd., Kingsville. Despite efforts of the Catonsville regular volunteer fire companies, the barn and 40 tons of hay burned. Some farm machinery was destroyed, but all livestock was saved.

At the height of the second storm in the city, a number six streetcar was derailed at Hanover Street and the types of go Avenue. Its crew said the breeze washed onto the tracks caused the mishap. None was injured, and the car was returned to operation speedily.

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Recall light BandW72

History of Baltimore's Recall Light System

March 1945

A program that was initiated in 1921 gets off the ground on this day in 17 Sept 1922 - We had installed a signal light on top of a Call box, the location of which was on the Southeast Corner of Baltimore and Charles Street. The signal was made up of an electric light bulb, a washbasin to shade the bulb and a Marine lens. The mechanism for the operation of the light was located in the old Central Police Station House on Saratoga Street near Charles Street, it consisted of an alarm clock for the flashing apparatus. This method of notifying an officer that he was wanted, proved very successful and at this time (March 1945). There were 269 recall lights in operation throughout the city, on a much more improved pattern than the first one. The 1945 Recall system consisted of one commercial sign flasher in each district station houses, which carried 110V to each Recall Light's location on Call boxes, and were operated with a steady, or flashing light by the telephone operator in each district. The above method applied to all districts.

Note: These Recall Lights were initially handmade by our maintenance crew. Police of the Central district began operating the new police Recall system. Every uniformed man from the inspector to patrolman was enthusiastic over the results. The first week of the "Magic Blinkers" has created a demand from other districts, and other jurisdictions around the country... that the system would be installed everywhere immediately.

Early in the year of 1921, a signal light was installed on the control box located on the southeast corner of Baltimore and Charles Street. The signal was made up of an electric light bulb, a wash basin to shade the bulb and a Marine lens.

The mechanism for the operation of this light was located in the old Central Police Station on Saratoga Street near Charles Street and consisted of an alarm clock for the flashing apparatus.

This method of notifying the post officer was very successful; before long they would have 269 Recall lights in operation throughout the city, on a much more improved pattern than the first one. The present recall system consists of one commercial sign flasher in each district station house, which carries 110 V to each recall light located on Call boxes and is operated with a steady or flashing light by the telephone operator in each district. The above method applies to all districts.

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early recall light72

Early Recall Light
This was homemade here in Baltimore by our construction and repair machinist who used spare parts from around the department and Marine Unit. 

The way this worked was as follows - If it were me, and I saw the light on, I would have gone to the Call Box, and answered like this: “ This is Officer Driscoll, on the light.” If I were simply making your required hourly call, I would have said: “This is Officer Driscoll on 525, or whatever box I was using.” The operator then knew exactly where “we” were. 

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The Evening Sun Fri Sep 14 1923 recall72

Installation of more Recall Lights

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Installing Police Lights

14 September 1923

Eastern District Being Equipped with Green Flash Signals

Electricians have begun the work of installing "green" flashing lights over patrol call boxes in the Eastern Police District. The task of laying the wires will require about one month, and when it is completed only two of the city’s 8 police districts – The Southern and The Southwest will be without the new green flashing light system that will be used for summoning patrolmen. The Southern District will be equipped next with these green flashing lights and when the work is finished the lights will be installed in the Southwestern District.

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1921 - It was necessary for the police call box system to be extended due to the Annexation. This required the installation of 135,000 feet of overhead telephone wire additional police call boxes. It was also necessary to increase our personnel from 5 linemen to 9 linemen and one additional chauffeur.

1922 - 17 Sept 1922 - Recall Lights are put to use for the first time in the country.  Police of the Central district began operating the new police recall system. Every uniformed man from the inspector to patrolman was enthusiastic over the results. The first week of the "Magic Blinkers" has created a demand from other districts and other jurisdictions that the system be installed everywhere immediately.

1927 - I was appointed to fill the position of lineman Foreman of the telephone and signal division under the supervision of the previously mentioned a Lieut. and Sgt. who was now elevated to the rank of Capt. and Lieut.

1934 - March 1934 the practice of assigning members of the force to the telephone and signal division was abandoned after the death of the Capt. and Lieut.

As a result of this action, I was appointed as superintendent of the lineman, telephone and signal division with Mr. George F. Abrecht one of our lineman appointed lineman Foreman.

We then began the task of remodeling are patrol boxes and telephone switchboard. All this work was done in our own workshop and by her own mechanics. With these improvements when the officers wished to call the district, he left the combination handset from the hawk; this flash is a green light on the switchboard in the station house immediately notifying the operator that an officer is on the line and ready to talk.

The register and time stamps were now of the punch type. When a report call is made the tape will be perforated with the box number and report call, also the date and time the call was made. The officers in all districts can also be notified by our flashing and recall system to call their station houses.

The 800 Bluestone gravity batteries have been replaced with the modern storage batteries and rectifiers.

So much for a brief outline of the telephone and signal system.

We also have the traffic control system included in our telephone and signal division. As I feel I have been one of the pioneers in the automatic traffic controlling apparatus I would like to go back to the year of 1919 to 1921 beginning with the hand-operated semaphores. There were approximately eight hand-operated semaphores in service at the following intersections North Avenue and Charles St., North Avenue and Mount Royal Avenue, light and Pratt St., St. Paul Street and Fayette St., Howard and Lexington streets, St. Paul and Mt. Royal Ave., Calvert and Fayette St., Lombard and Howard Street

Beginning in the year 1921 this number was slowly increased and quite a bit of experimenting was done with different types. The first type was a piece of pipe with a concrete base and the word stop and go on it. The officer operated this with a hand lever.

Next came the semaphore on rollers, the officer standing on a wooden platform with metal shielding around him about the high, this was used to keep the officer from being splashed with mud. This was also operated by a hand lever.

Following this several towers were built 12 feet high. These towers were located on stilts 3 feet from the surface of the street. This was done so as the officers could look over traffic for several blocks in all directions. These towers had a revolving cylinder in the top with the words stop and go and were operated by an endless chain for revolving the cylinder and were supposed to be the last word in traffic control. These towers were placed at Calvert and Fayette streets, St. Paul and Fayette Street, and at light and Pratt Street the towers operated very well during daylight hours, but they could not be seen at night. So the idea was conceived to electrify them, which was done in the following manner. The words stop and go and for elec-cylinder was made transparent with trick light bulbs placed in the center of the cylinder, also an amber light was placed on the extreme top of the tower.

The operation was as follows: when the officer wanted to make a change in traffic he would push a button located on the inside of the tower three times, which would flash the amber light three times warning the traffic that there would be a change, then turn the cylinder to the necessary stop and go. The electrification of these towers was about the beginning of electrically operating traffic signals in Baltimore.

In the month of March 1922, a two-compartment signal was designed by Baltimore engineer. The signal consisted of eight lenses and two electric light bulbs. When the top compartment bald was illuminated the signal was so green, North and South; red East and West, when the bottom compartment was illuminated the top ball but when out, the signal sewing green East and West; and red North and South. This type of signal was installed one trial at Howard and Lexington streets, temporary current being furnished by department store on the northeast corner. The signal was suspended on a span of wire of the United Railway Company. Wires were then run from the signal to the footway on the northeast corner, where an officer operated signal with push buttons from his point. This light was put in operation about noontime of the day that it was installed, and operated very satisfactorily. However the next morning when the officer went up to operate the signal, he found that there was no signal there and on investigation, it was found that during the night a load of hay southbound on Howard Street became tangled up in the signal, tearing it from its moorings and it was not discovered until the farmer was unloading his hay.

In April 1922, a traffic tower was constructed at North Avenue and Charles Street [which still stands], high enough so an officer standing in this tower would have a clear view of North Avenue. From Howard Street to Guilford Avenue and on Charles Street from Lanvale to 23rd St. the idea at the time was to operate traffic as follows.

When the signal would show red on North Avenue all vehicle traffic on North Avenue between Howard Street and Guilford Avenue was supposed to come to a stop, north and southbound traffic between Howard Street and Guilford Avenue was permitted to move. This did not work very satisfactorily due to the type of signal used at this time, the lens being nothing more than colored glass without reflectors and was hard to distinguish. So the idea of controlling traffic from one signal, on North Avenue from Howard to Guilford Avenue was not put into effect and it was decided to control the intersection of Charles Street and North Avenue and only.

In June 1922 it was decided to install two traffic signals, one to be located in St. Paul and Fayette Street, the other at St. Paul Street and Lexington, which was completed in July, 1922, and was the same type signal that had been previously tried out at Howard Street and Lexington Street but instead of being suspended they were on a pedestal. These signals were operated manually by pushing buttons. The signals were operated until 1923, during this time more modern traffic signals were being developed by several manufacturers.

We were induced to try out to more modern type signals which we did. The signals were called the Milliken talking lamps and consisted of four red lenses and four green lenses being set in a box type metal housing that would rotate a half turn at each force of the button. The operation was as follows, the signal, for example, would be green for North and South traffic, the officer would push the button which would start a motor operating which in turn, would rotate the box type signal half way around or vice versa, also ringing a bell and blowing a horn which could be heard for several blocks. This became very objectionable to the office workers of this locality and had to be discontinued.

During this period of time from the last insulation until January 1924, there were no traffic signals installed. In January 1924, modern traffic signals which now had been developed were installed on North Avenue from Guilford Avenue to Howard Street, also Charles Street and 20th St. The colored glass signal was removed from the tower at North Avenue and Charles Street and more modern signals installed which are still standing.

All signals on North Avenue. From Guilford Avenue to Howard Street including Charles and 20th St. were interconnected and operated both automatic and manually [this being the first automatic operated traffic signal in Baltimore], from the tower at North Avenue and Charles Street. The operation was as follows: movement number one, signals all read on North Avenue from Guilford Avenue to Howard Street; movement number two signals all green on North Avenue from Guilford Avenue to Howard Street. This system stayed in effect until October 1928. Several isolated intersections were signalized in the year 1924, including North Avenue and Mount Royal and Linden Avenue and Biddle Street.

March 5, 1925, a tower was erected at Mount Royal Avenue in St. Paul Street the same as North Avenue and Charles Street. Traffic signals were placed on St. Paul Street from Mount Royal Ave. to Monument Street to mast arm type signals were installed at each intersection. The signals operated both automatic and manual as follows: the signals were timed in pairs, for example, St. Paul and Mt. Royal and St. Paul and Preston would be green, St. Paul Biddle St. Paul and Chase Street would be read this operation continued until December 1 of 1928.

February 22, 1928, the first vehicle actuated control was tried out in Baltimore. (To the best of my knowledge this was the first vehicle actuated signal insulation in the world.)

This was an automatic control were a brake attachment and two finals placed on polls on the right-hand side of the cross street, ordinary telephone transmitters being installed inside the finals. These transmitters being connected to the sound relay, which when disturbed by noise, for example, the blowing of warns, tooting of whistles, or the sound of voices would actuate the sound relay, releasing the break on the automatic control permitting the motor to run. This would change the signal which had been green on the main street to Amber, then to read, permitting the side street traffic to move out on the green.

This control would always restore itself back to the main street green, then the break would set and the signal would remain green on the main street until disturbed again by sound. Several of this type were installed, one being at Charles Street and Coldspring Lane, another at Charles and Belvedere Avenue

This type of actuation was not found very satisfying for the following reason. Residents of the locality where these type signals were installed, complained of the continuous blowing of warns, whistles of locomotion locomotives on nearby railroad would actuate the control. Considerable trouble was caused by boys throwing stones into the finals. To overcome these objections it was necessary to install a hollow metal box in the bed of the cross street with the same type transmitter, installed in the metal box as had previously been used in the finals. The wheels of the vehicle passing over the hollow metal box would transmit sound to the transmitter the same as was done previously by the blowing of horns or other noises.

This type works very satisfactorily and we still have it at present time in several locations throughout the city.

The first flexible progressive traffic system installed in Baltimore was put into service on Baltimore Street from gay to Howard Street, from Howard Street to Baltimore to Franklin Street in the month of July 1928. This insulation consisted of a 4 2 way signals at each intersection, automatic and manual control at each intersection being controlled by a master timer located in the basement of the police headquarters building, this master time being connected by a lead to covered cable to all intersections.

This system works very satisfactorily and in the year of 1929, the following intersections were put in service. One Fayette Street from gay to You Tall St., Lexington Street from gay to Howard St., Redwood Street from Calvert to Howard St., Franklin Street from Park Avenue to You Tall St., Fallsway from Fayette to Helen St., Charles and Saratoga Street and Lombard and Liberty Streets. This entire group of signals being operated from the same master timer as Baltimore Street. This system is still operating at present time March 1945

In October 1928, the same type of flexible progressive system was installed on North Avenue from Guilford Avenue to Howard Street, replacing the system previously mentioned on North Avenue from Guilford Avenue to Howard Street

December 21, 1929, The flexible progressive system was put in service at the following locations: on St. Paul Street from center to Mount Royal Ave., on Cathedral Street from Mulberry to Mount Royal Ave., on Charles Street from Franklin Street to eager Street, on Mount Royal Ave. from Calvert to Cathedral Street and on Fallsway from eager the Preston Street.

This system was replaced by a triple reset progressive system in July 1942. This system favors the movement of southbound traffic in the morning and reverses itself in the afternoon.

This is accomplished automatically by time clocks and has proven very successful. This department maintains the following equipment: 434 intersections controlled by automatic traffic timers; 216 electric pylons; five master traffic controls; approximately 1 million feet of traffic and telephone underground cable; 25,000 feet of overhead telephone wire; eight telephone switchboards; 355 police call boxes; 269 recall lights; 600 storage batteries; 13 pawnbroker alarms; 46 bank alarms; and 15 police buildings.

In addition to the maintenance, this department does all of the construction and new insulations of traffic signals and telephone equipment. We do this with the following personnel; chauffeurs Charles J. Brown and Frederick M. Crum it, Lyman John H. Childs, Albert R. Cresswell, L. Graham Doyle, Lewis W. Eckerd, John A. Funk, Stuart M. Gates, Nelson S. Go brick, Clyde leered, Clarence N. G. Louver, Earl J. Myers, John H. Morgan Wick, Lewis W Orem, John M. Show well, foreman Albert G Warfield and myself John H. Martin superintendent of system.

17 Sept 1922 - Recall Lights are put to use for the first time in the country.  Police of the Central district began operating the new police recall system. Every uniformed man from the inspector to patrolman was enthusiastic over the results. The first week of the "Magic Blinkers" has created a demand from other districts and other jurisdictions that the system be installed everywhere immediately.


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Recall call Box telegraph72

Police Lights Nemesis of Evildoers

8 November 1925

 

Like Scientist, Their Winking Rays Stand Ready to Issue Call to Urgent Duty or to Foretell Tragedy

Like a mischievous eye, a blue light was winking slightly at the edge of the sidewalk. Winking consistently and anyone who would look at it. At the same time, all over Baltimore hundreds of similar lights were also winking.

The average pedestrian paid no more attention to the flashing light then to the ogles of an unattractive girl. Accustomed as he was to traffic signals, electric signs, streetlamps and the hundred and one other lighting devices which modern city life has evolved, he didn’t even notice this one.

But scattered here and there over the city were some thousand men who leaped to respond at the first wink they saw with the alacrity of a lover at the call of his most cherished to sweetheart. They were members of Baltimore’s police force, and they knew these lights might have important things to tell them.

To safeguard the citizens of Baltimore from its members who have wandered off or slipped from the lawful course of life, the city has been divided into eight districts, when something goes amiss in any section it is possible to inform practically every Guardian of the Peace of that fact within a few minutes.

Here is how it works: A store is robbed, perhaps in the Northwest section of the city. The thieves escape in an automobile. The owner of the store telephones police headquarters. There he is switched to the chief inspector’s office, where he excitedly gives such description of the men who robbed him and their car as he can recall. The Sgt. on duty helps the caller out by asking pertinent questions. Sometimes the person reporting is too upset to talk coherently.

Having obtained what information he can the Sergeant, almost before the man has finished talking, is giving the signal on a private wire which puts to eight police districts on the telephone at once. He gives the facts of the robbery just once, and all eight districts throughout the city have this theft on record.

The man on the phone at each station house presses the button immediately. Blue lights begin winking all over the city, informing patrolman, motorcycle police and detectives working in all eight districts of the city, to call their district’s headquarters.

As soon as each man on duty sees a flashing light, he calls the station house in his district and is given an account of the robbery.

Within a few minutes, ordinarily, the news has been flashed over the entire city by means of these blue lights winking from the top of police call boxes and from the roofs of station houses strategically placed throughout the city.

There are in the city of Baltimore, 1350 patrolman, 170 sergeants, 25 detective sergeants, 25 detective patrolmen, and 25 lieutenant detectives, more than 1500 law enforcement officers in total.

By the simple device of pushing a button, or flashing on a light by lifting a lever, it is possible to get in touch with most of this force scattered over the city in an incredibly abbreviated time.

It has been quite a step from the days when the police used to communicate with one another by striking the sidewalk with their espantoons.

It is such an easy thing to push a bell or release a hook and flash on a light at the telephone exchange. Yet it strains the imagination to reflect upon what far-reaching and complicated processes such a simple little action can start.

The chief inspector’s office is a fascinating place. There can be observed the mysteriously complex workings of the network of wires which are like the nerves of a modern city.

In one corner is a little brass instrument connected indirectly with the main telephone's nervous system. It is used to convey information of a specialized kind, for an attempt to gain unlawful possession of private property.

This machine is connected with all of the approximate 100 banks in this city. When someone holds up one of these institutions an alarm can be sent to police headquarters by anyone at the bank who is lucky, or sometimes unlucky enough to be on hand to push a button placed in a convenient and concealed place for just such an emergency.

Automobiles stand outside the courthouse waiting for such calls. The bell has hardly finished ringing off the signal which tells what bank is calling before detectives are speeding to that location.

But much of the net used to trip up the criminally inclined before they have hardly started the telephone helps weave.

The telephone wire in the chief inspector’s office is kept hot all day, according to the Sergeant there, with signals of distress coming in from all over the city. Some strains, a few tragic, and many inconsequential things appear on the daily record sheet, where the requests for patrolmen are recorded.

A woman reports a man looking in at her window.

A dice game is seen, and police assistance is demanded to break it up.

A fight is going on in a saloon on such and such or so and so Street.

Two children were heard to cry out. But when the person telephoning got there, they were not to be found.

A noisy party is extended its revelries too far into the night.

An automobile has been parked on the wrong side of the street for more than an hour, according to a woman who has been watching it from her front window.

Some schoolboys playing ball on a nearby lot are too boisterous about it.

Cries were heard coming from a neighboring house.

A light is seen burning in an unoccupied building.

Smoke is smelled at a certain street intersection.

A woman is lying under a streetcar.

A man dropped dead on the corner.

A couple has been asphyxiated at a house on Fayette Street.

A drunken man is lying in the gutter near a certain corner.

Among all these, there will appear occasionally some strange bit like this; Mrs. C. reports that the new fence post around her yard was removed and warm eaten posts were substituted for them.

Or Mr. B. says he is being followed continually, and that a Dictaphone has been installed in his room to listen to what goes on there.

“But we always treat all requests for service of one of our patrolman seriously, no matter what the nature of the request,” says the Sergeant. “We send a man up who looks at the fence post quite gravely, suits the fears of the woman and returns to the office to report that she “is or isn’t quite right.”

“Yes, we have quite a few of these curious calls. Some of them coming regularly from certain sources which we have learned about from previous experience. We have a list of these regular customers of ours, so we know how to take them.

Most of the complaints come by telephone, but there was one call recently which was too indignant to be trusted over the wire. Therefore, the woman came in, in person to deliver her complaint or investigation.

“I want to report a traffic officer,” she said. “He just called me a Jaywalker. I don’t know what he meant, and I don’t know what a jaywalker is, but I will have you know, that I will not be called such a name by your officers or anyone!”

But the face to face complaint or request for a patrolman are rare; probably it is well for the chief inspector’s office that it is.

The telephone has many advantages other than that of a time saver.

Police departments all over the United States can get or give information more quickly this way and cooperate in catching criminals who have fled from one city or jurisdiction to another. There is the cable for still further distances.

A button may be pushed in Baltimore or a lever released to flash a light and vibrations from that simple little act may cover a good portion of the city or the entire Western Hemisphere, going for months, or even years at a time.

Man is a thinking animal, a clothes-wearing animal, a tool-using animal, men of letters have said at various times, all vying with one another in defining a human being in the shortest terms.

The last of these, a tool-using animal, perhaps, is best for modern uses. Man is a tool-using animal, but in recent years he has learned to work many of his tools by merely pushing a button.

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1945 Automatic Flasher on Call Box

Call Box with Recall light on top

Recall light hit the streets and our Officers came up with a way to have the kids in the neighborhood get involved. The first kid to let the officer know the light was on would get a penny. Officers rarely missed calls, and build a rapport with the kids, which later grew into receiving tips on other wrongdoers in the area. If we look at the Recall light on top this call box pole, we'll notice it is the old style, 1921 cast arm bowl homemade lamp

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 We can see from the Green Patina that this is an old Tarnished Brass

This date back to the 1920's, initially they were homemade in-house right here in Baltimore by our construction and repair machine shop. Using scraps, from around the shop and marine unit, they came up with a system that utilized a nautical lamp and globe, along with clock parts, once the system was proven, they contacted the company best known for nautical outdoor lighting. That company is the Russell & Stoll Company out of New York. Looking at this lamp some might think it is time to break out the Brasso © but I tend to like this coloring, known a "Patina" or "Verdigris" it is carbonate or oxidation and comes out most often from copper, bronze or brass. (It reminds me of the Statue of Liberty and I don't know about you, but, I wouldn't want t see Lady Liberty in any color but that beautiful green patina/verdigris).

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In this set up I like the extra long pole raising the lamp high enough for officers to see from the edges of their post, still officers would pay the neighborhood kids to keep an eye on it, and like a game the first kid to alert the officer that the lamp was going off, would get a nickel, a quarter, or a fifty cent piece depending on the era, the 20's 40's or 60s. Eventually, when the radio car first started, they had a kind of Recall light for the radio car called a C-Code light, it sat on the roof of a Radio Car and when the officer was out on foot and despatch wanted him or her they would activate the C-code lamp, the officer could see this small light from a distance and make his way back to his car to answer the radio. BTW, not all patrol cars were radio cars

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This small-cap came off the top of the lamp to let the maintenance crew change the bulb out. The globe initially used was amber, though, over time when a globe was broken and the department needed to use whatever they had on hand until a new globe came in, they would use while Amber was the preferred color, we had several red, and even one blue globe.

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A MYSTERY POLE LOSES STANDING

25 July 1955

 

A MYSTERY POLE LOSES STANDING
AFTER CATCHING PUBLIC EYE, IT FINDS AN UNBLINKING END

Inspector William E. Taylor director of communications for the police department and local highway engineers have written "finis" to the story of Baltimore's mystery pole. The simple green pole, in mid-sidewalk at the northwest corner of the Broadway and Monument street intersection, was taken down at the end of last week. Highway engineers wrote the police several days ago to suggest that it be removed, calling it an "obstruction." CREATES MILD FUROR

The pole, which at one time served as a recall light with a flashing signal to attract policemen to a nearby call box, had become a mystery recently when neither the police nor several city departments would admit having put it there. It created a mild furor among curious persons who asked about its function and labeled it variously a "hazard" and a possible "bumping post for the blind.” Inspector Taylor said that a pole had stood on that site for some seventeen years. The original pole was hit by a truck early in July, breaking the light bracket at the top and damaging the pole.

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Research over Lens Colors

Over the course of our research we have read these Recall Lights described as having been distributed first in the 1922 article as having been RED in color, then in the 1925 article, the author described the lights as having been BLUE. The bulk of the recall lights we have recovered over the years; and those we have been told of by the men who were alive and working the streets when Recall Lights were still in use, describe them as having been a brown or amber color. In our best effort to set the record straight, we have officers that recall having seen one blue light that was still in use in the 1980's and a couple red globes scattered throughout the districts around the time these lights were being taken down. Most of these Red and Blue lamps were on the west side of Baltimore. In an effort to preserve our history we have purchased or were given several recall lights, three amber/brown and one red. We also purchased a globe for the museum downtown and it was red. which will be nice as it will help convey the original design which was built right here in Baltimore as described above; that lamp was built using an electric light bulb, a washbasin to shade the bulb and a Marine lens. The first three lamps we obtained are all different, and appear to be one from each stage of these lamps progress in manufacturing, the oldest has a washbasin, the second is commercially manufactured, but made of a cast iron, and the latest is identical to the second but made of a brass material to avoid rust. The mechanism for the flashing apparatus was said to have consisted of an alarm clock. We have many of these raw handmade parts here in our collection.
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On 17 Sept 1922, the program that started in 1921 gets off the ground, going from a trial system to a full-fledged operational program. - A signal light on top of or nearby call boxes were installed, the location was on the southeast corner of Baltimore and Charles Streets. The signal was made up of an electric light bulb, with a washbasin added to shade the lamp and a marine lens to protect it from the weather. The mechanism to operate the light was located in the old Central District Station House (at the time located on Saratoga near Charles Street). The device consisted of an alarm clock to make the lamp flash. This method of notifying an officer that he was wanted, proved to be very successful. By 1945 there were 269 recall lights in operation throughout the city, of course, they were much more refined by that time compared to the more primitive design of the makeshift lamps used in 1921. By 1945 they had gone to a full-fledged market lamp made by the Russell and Stoll Co. New York. The 1945 recall system consisted of one commercial sign flasher in each of the then 8 district station houses, which carried 110V to each of the recall light locations on or near the area Call Boxes, and were operated with a steady, or flashing light by the telephone operator in each district.

Note: These "Recall Lights" were initially handmade by our maintenance crew. Police of the Central District began operating the new police Recall System. At the time, every uniformed man from the inspector to the patrolman was enthusiastic over the results. The first week of the "Magic Blinkers" had created a demand from other districts, to other jurisdictions and then around the country to other departments... the system would eventually be installed in nearly all police department in the United States at a reasonably fast rate. Also regarding the Russell and Stoll Co. Recall lights, Baltimore initally purchased a cast iron/steel lamp, but maintnace issues caused by weather made them more work than they worth so the later lamps were made of brass. In our collection we have 4 recall lamps, one of the first home made lamps, and 3 Russell and Stoll Co. lamps two made of the Brass (one in untouched tarnished condition, and one tha has been polished.) We also have one of the older Steel Russell and Stoll Co. lamps. We have been told there was fourth style lamp made of the thinner materieal that so far we have not seen, but will keep an eye out and update this page as that information becomes abailable. 

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Note - This information on Recall Lights shouldn't be confused with information on Street Lights
Further - If you somehow found this page without having seen the Call Box page Click Here

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 NOTES

Over the course of our research, we have learned that the lenses also known as globes on our Recall Lights have been described as having been a RED color, a BLUE color, or a BROWN / AMBER color. The bulk of the recall lights we have recovered over the years; and those we have been told of by the men who were working the streets when the Recall system was in use, describe the lenses/globes as having been a BROWN / AMBER color. I should point out that much of the reason we used the colors we used had to do with traffic lights, so it is interesting that two of the colors used were also used in traffic lights. In our best effort to set the record straight, we have spoken with many of the officers mentioned above, and the bulk of them remember having seen a BLUE light that was still in use in the 1980's on a box near the Pine Steet Station. As well they spoke of a couple of RED globes scattered throughout the districts on the west side of Baltimore during the mid to late 1980's around the time these devices were being removed.

As previously mentioned most of the RED and BLUE lamps were seen on the west side of Baltimore. In an effort to preserve our police history we have purchased and or were given several of these old Baltimore Recall Lights, and are always looking for more. Three of those we have are AMBER / BROWN, and one has a RED lens. We also purchased a globe for the Recall Light in the museum downtown. We felt the absence of a lens in the museum was sending the wrong information at what could be a crucial teachable moment.

Interestingly enough the lens on the museum's recall light was missing or broken prior to the museums having been opened in the 1980's so the people that put everything together back then fashioned a lens from an old Gatorade bottle, and to be honest for those that didn't know, or bother to look close, it worked quite well. In fact, I think the Gatorade lens, was a better option than leaving it without a lens at all. The others that worked on the museum did a great job, but without a lens were forced to go without anything, and in an effort to tell the story painted the top of a light bulb blue. It looked nice, but in my eyes we were potentially spreading misinformation, possibly leading people to think the Recall Light had no lens and a blue bulb inside.

The short version as to why I was against not having the proper type lens (or a reasonable substitute) in the museum's Recall Light oddly enough comes from another product of the 1920’s and even more peculiar is that the other 1920’s historical event involved Harry Houdini. To be more accurate while the event concerned Harry Houdini and his 1926 death, it actually occurred in 1953. I will attempt to put the full story on our website under a Harry Houdini page, but for now lets just focus on the discrepancy in Houdini’s death and how a 1953 film starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, began a common myth often heard concerning Houdini’s death, and how it was believed by so many that he died on stage during a performance by drowning in a failed upside-down Chinese Water Torture Escape. For years, even some of the most well-versed magicians that have studied various forms of magic, and magic performances thought Houdini died on stage doing that trick. The truth be told Houdini died in a hospital on 31 Oct 1926 from a ruptured appendix that most likely resulted from a punch to the stomach by a college student named J. Gordon Whitehead. Harry used to do a stunt in which he could take a sharp punch to the abdomen, and on the 22nd of Oct 1926, Whitehead punched Houdini in the stomach before he was prepared to take the blow.

The point is, whether it be Harry Houdini or the color and type of lens on a Baltimore Recall Light, correct information where it is known, and possible should always be represented. Especially in a museum setting where people come to learn the truth and rely on us to do the research and show our visitors what we have found. As misinformation can cause others to be incorrectly educated, and from there spread this misinformation to others, we should always do our best to convey an accurate historical picture the first time we show/teach it. Something I have always enjoyed about having something that is not 100% accurate, we need to speak up and use that incorrect information as an icebreaker to talk about the error and what it would take to make it right. At the museum, we have a motors Radio/PA system, and it initially had a grey handheld mic. Anyone that worked motors would know the all-weather outdoor mic that goes with the motors radio PA is black, not grey. So we went a looking, and I'll be honest, I could have taken a grey mic, disassembled it, painted parts of it black, and a sort of dark grey then put it all back together, and it might have cost us $50 or $60, it would have also opened the door during a visit to show the work we did to a motor's man, we would have gotten a good laugh and moved on. For the non-motor's man, it would have been educational and opened the door to something they knew nothing at all about. However, in the end, we found an outdoor mic that was NOS the seller wanted $$80 before shipping. So for less than half of what we would have had to pay for the faked version but half the original value, I picked it up. As often as possible we should gather and present authentic Baltimore Police equipment actually, when that becomes impossible or unlikely we should attempt to pick up equipment from that period, be it one of the neighboring departments, or an agency clear across country, as long as it is the same make, model, etc. it will suffice, and as a last resort, when all others have failed, we can resort to having a reproduction piece of equipment made. I am not against using photographs, mixed in with parts of actual equipment, I fact I think even with actual equipment of our past, we should have photographs of it in use. Sorry, I have gotten a little off track, All I wanted to say was based on the obvious problems of not doing all we can to portray a display as close to accurate as possible we run the risk of providing the wrong information thereby educating people with incorrect information. In the case of the lens/globe, it would have been ideal to have an AMBER / BROWN lens, but until that day comes a RED globe is better than no lens, and opens the door to tell the story of how the Recall Light came about, and how we initially started with a RED lens, and then due to the commissioner at the time also working on the traffic light system and his wanting a three light system, RED, GREEN, or AMBER he couldn’t have a RED globe. This is also why we didn't use a GREEN lens.

While it was not the preferred AMBER / BROWN color, it was RED. As suggested AMBER / BROWN would have been more accurate we understand the difficulty and expense of finding these lenses in the right size and color using a RED lens was understood. So we look at this and any issues with finding actual Baltimore Police items as a silver lining of in this case.

Now might be a good time to tell the story, when Commissioner Gaither was in office, he started to research the Semaphore traffic control system. The Semaphore was a system in which traffic officers would stand in the middle of an intersection with what was often referred to as a "STOP-STOP / GO-GO" signpost in which a signpost with an intersecting signs affixed to the top of the post had the words STOP-STOP on one section interlaced with two more signs that read GO-GO. With this, while the officer had STOP-STOP pointing at say, Eastbound, and Westbound traffic Northbound, and Southbound was reading GO-GO. Turning the sign 90 degrees would now have Westbound and eastbound traffic seeing STOP-STOP, and Southbound, and Northbound traffic was seeing GO-GO. It was that simple, like a flagman by turning the signpost 90 degrees back and forth oncoming traffic from all four directions would either see, STOP-STOP or GO-GO. From this, other cities across the country were all working to come up with a traffic light system more like that which we have today, most of the people involved wanted two lights, RED and GREEN. For a little while the Semaphore had a light affixed to the top, this light came from the railroad system, Gaither sat out and watched his intersections and realized we need more than two lights, he saw pedestrians and left turning vehicles stranded in a two-light system. So he introduced the third light, AMBER this Amber light gave pedestrians and left turning vehicles time to clear the intersection. So why would he not allow RED or GREEN lights in his Recall System, but had no problem with AMBER? The answer is simple, but first, let's talk about why RED and GREEN were not wanted on the system. He felt from a distance, day or night, an officer could mistake a Recall light for a Traffic light and not answer when needed, He further thought that at first officers may respond to the light, but as he got closer he would realize it was not the Recall light, eventually officers would stop responding thinking it was a traffic light in the same line of view. They went to the BLUE lens but quickly found the cobalt BLUE glass to be expensive and with vandalism. NOw if Gaither feared RED and GREEN would great a boy who cried Wolf effect, why did he not have the same fear of the AMBER light, a light he was working so hard to push for the new Traffic light system. Well if we think back to when we were kids, and since while dealing with my kids and my grandkids; what did, or do most of them respond when asked to name the colors of a traffic light? Every kid I ever heard answers, "RED, GREEN, and YELLOW." However, when asked about the AMBER light of a Recall light most people describe it as brown, while the AMBER of a traffic light is deemed by most to be YELLOW. With that, there was no fear of officers mistaking a traffic light several blocks down with a recall light, and eventually ignoring the light with an excuse of mixing lights up. I should point out, that this may have been as much a real fear as trying to avoid a situation where an officer could say he thought it was traffic light as an excuse for avoiding answering a call box, or maybe to avoid having the public say they thought the light was a traffic light, so they entered the intersection.

At least having the right size lens, from the right period in history; a RED lens can still be a nice way of helping us to convey the original design which was built right here in Baltimore as described above. The lamp was built using an electric light bulb, a simple metal washbasin to shade and protect the bulb from above and a Marine lens/globe to protect the lamp from weather-related damage or vandalism. The four lamps we have obtained for our private collection are all different (to a degree), Appearing to be at least one from each of the three stages of these lamps progression in history and manufacturing, the oldest having a primitive washbasin shaped metal bowl, the second is commercially manufactured, but made of a cast iron, and the latest is identical to the second but made of a brass material to avoid rust. The mechanism for the flashing apparatus was said to have consisted of an alarm clock. We have many of these raw handmade parts here in our collection. Unlike today the entire system was new and who knew what anyone would think. The webpage on Recall lights will explain the lens colors; also, some reporters at the time referred to GREEN lights, while others referred to RED lights while talking about Recall lights. We never used a GREEN lens on the Recall light system, so while trying to figure out what they were talking about

On 17 Sept 1922, the program that started in 1921 gets off the ground, going from a trial system to a full-fledged operational program. - A signal light on top of or nearby call boxes were installed, the location was on the southeast corner of Baltimore and Charles Streets. The signal was made up of an electric light bulb, with a washbasin added to shade the lamp and a marine lens to protect it from the weather. The mechanism to operate the light was located in the old Central District Station House (at the time located on Saratoga near Charles Street). The device consisted of an alarm clock to make the lamp flash. This method of notifying an officer that he was wanted, proved to be very successful. By 1945 there were 269 recall lights in operation throughout the city, of course, they were much more refined by that time compared to the more primitive design of the makeshift lamps used in 1921. By 1945 they had gone to a full-fledged market lamp made by the Russell and Stoll Co. New York. The 1945 recall system consisted of one commercial sign flasher in each of the then 8 district station houses, which carried 110V to each of the recall light locations on or near the area Call Boxes, and were operated with a steady, or flashing light by the telephone operator in each district.

Note: These "Recall Lights" were initially handmade by our maintenance crew. Police of the Central District began operating the new police Recall System. At the time, every uniformed man from the inspector to the patrolman was enthusiastic over the results. The first week of the "Magic Blinkers" had created a demand from other districts, to other jurisdictions and then around the country to other departments... the system would eventually be installed in nearly all police department in the United States at a reasonably fast rate. Also regarding the Russell and Stoll Co. Recall lights, Baltimore initially purchased a cast iron/steel lamp, but maintenance issues caused by weather made them more work than they worth, so the later lamps were made of cast brass.

In our collection, we have 4 recall lamps, one of the first homemade lamps, and 3 Russell and Stoll Co. lamps two made of the Brass (one in untouched tarnished condition and one that has been polished.) We also have one of the older Steel Russell and Stoll Co. lamps. We have been told there was fourth style lamp made of the thinner material that so far we have not seen, but will keep an eye out and update this page as that information becomes available. 

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Keep checking back for a great story that will go here, we are waiting for the information and confirmation. Please contact Det. Ret. Kenny Driscoll if you have any pictures of you or your family members and wish them remembered here on this tribute site to Honor the fine men and women who have served with Honor and Distinction at the Baltimore Police Department. Anyone with information, photographs, memorabilia, or other "Baltimore City Police" items can contact Ret. Det. Kenny Driscoll at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Follow us on Twitter @BaltoPoliceHist or like us on Facebook or mail pics to 8138 Dundalk Ave. Baltimore Md. 21222 

  Copyright © 2002 Baltimore City Police History - Ret Det Kenny Driscoll

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Copies of: Baltimore Police Department class photos, pictures of officers, vehicles, equipment, newspaper articles relating to our department. Also wanted Departmental Newsletters, Lookouts, Wanted Posters, Hot Sheets Reports, and or Brochures. Information on retired or deceased officers, fallen or injured officers and anything that may help us to preserve the history and proud traditions of this agency.
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