The Holy Grail of Traffic Signals – One collector’s quest to find and restore an iconic 1924 Acme traffic signal

This article was originally printed in Antique Trader
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The restored Acme traffic signal in all its glory. Now in working condition down to the smallest detail, the signal has a proud place in collector Robert Rentzer's California home. All photos courtesy Robert Rentzer unless otherwise noted.
 

The Acme Traffic Signal was unique among all traffic signals. It sported not only illuminated red and green Corning glass lenses with heat-resistant ‘stop’ and ‘go’ letters, but also innovative stop-and-go semaphore arms and an amber blinking light for the wee hours of the morning when traffic was mostly absent. It even had a bell to warn of the changing of the lights and arms (although the bells were disconnected in 1931, as the clanging of four signals at an intersection was described by some as sounding like New Year’s Eve in a boiler factory).

Sadly, Acme’s success was short lived,  as the signals literally were going to the birds.  Despite a bird spike atop the signals, malfunctions became a frequent problem due to bird nests being built inside the hollow area where the semaphore arms came to rest for 14 hours a day, from twilight to daybreak.

Collector Robert Rentzer takes us from a downtown Los Angeles street corner in 1924 all the way to his game room in 2010. That’s where a computer programer added the spark of life to his very own 1924 Acme traffic signal, one of the most sought after antique artifacts from the City of Angels.

In this three-part series (each in a free PDF format) you’ll learn the lengths Rentzer went to find and restore this piece of vintage American roadway history.

The Holy Grail of Traffic Signals Part 1 (Download Part One)

The Holy Grail of Traffic Signals Part 2 (Download Part Two)

The Holy Grail of Traffic Signals Part 3 (Download Part Three)

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Inventor Frank J. Husbands of Los Angeles received a patent for his "automatic traffic regulator," which would become the Acme traffic signal. Shown here is the first page of the 15-page patent.

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