The American One-Way Sign: Then And Now

Meaning of the One-Way Sign

One-way signs keeps vehicles restricted to one direction of travel. 

The Origins of the One-Way Sign

The concept of this sign is credited to William Phelps Eno, also known as the father of traffic safety. Mr. Eno got the idea for traffic regulations back in 1867, when he was just 9 years old. The story is he got stuck in a traffic jam with his mom and this traffic jam consisted of about a dozen confused horse drawn carriages. I'm sure you can imagine the frustration. 

After leaving the real-estate business at 40 years old, Eno went on to publish a paper named “Reform in Our Street Traffic Urgently Needed” in 1900. Then, three years later he designed the Road Traffic Regulations for New York. 

It wasn’t until after 1925 that one way signs started appearing around New York. There wasn't much standardization and some say these die-cut arrow-shaped signs weren’t conspicuous however, these iterations were used for decades. The modern one-way sign appeared in the 1960’s and not much has changed since then. 

One-Way Sign: A Timeline

  • 1940-49: The early iteration of the one-way sign was a die-cut arrow-shaped sign that had artistic flare and wasn't very conspicuous. (image credit:

 New York, 1940s One Ways Sign Iteration
  • 1950-59: In the fifties, some one-way signs were still arrow-shaped, but they lacked the artistic flare of their predecessor. Also, it was in this decade that the arrow-shaped sign was phased out for a simpler design that could be more easy mass-manufactured. This simple rectangular design was placed all across the United States. (image credit:

 Rectangular One-Way Sign Iteration
  • 1960-69: In the sixties, these one-way signs started to resemble the modern day one-way sign. During the latter years of this decade, it was decided that black was easier to see than a plain white sign. (image credit:

 1960s One Way Sign Iteration
    • 1980s & Beyond: By the eighties, the American one-way sign was completely standardized to resemble the sign we see today. (image credit: 

    Modern One-Way Sign Iteration

      Modern Day Manufacturing

      At Interstate SignWays, we digitally print all of our MUTCD signs using 3M sheeting, inks, and laminates. This is to ensure that we can provide superior reflective signs that are highly-conspicuous.
      1. Our digital printers print out one way signs onto a roll of 3M Sheeting
      2. After printing, 3M over-laminates are applied to the sheeting.

      3. After lamination, the sheeting is then rolled onto an aluminum blank.
      4. After being applied to aluminum, the excess sheeting is cut off.
      Different states require different sheeting and aluminum gauges, so Interstate offers all variations. All you have to do is input your specifications in the required fields. Need them fast? No worries, we can have them shipped from our facility in just three business days or less. Watch the video to see how we manufacture them!