National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW): The History of Traffic Cones

To help commemorate this year’s Work Zone Safety Awareness Week, here is something about one of the more readily identifiable features of many of those road construction areas across the country: the humble but important traffic cone.

Many people trace the origins of the traffic cone to 1914, which also happens to be the year in which AASHTO made its debut. Charles P. Rudebaker is widely credited with introducing early versions of the cone that year to help alert people to repair work and other potential safety hazards on New York City’s streets and to divert traffic from those sections. Whether or not Rudebaker was the one who actually created those markers, the fact remains that the earliest versions of the device were notably different from the plastic cones that we know today. Above all else, those original versions were made of concrete and therefore had the potential to cause considerable damage to any vehicle unfortunate enough to run up against them.

It was during the early 1940s that a safer and more familiar rendition of those markers came into existence. Charles D. Scanlon, a street painter with the Los Angeles Department of Public Works, devised a hollow, cone-shaped marker for use as a safety warning on roads and in other public areas. Scanlon’s marker was made of material pliable enough to prevent any major vehicular damage but also resilient and weighted down enough to withstand heavy winds and other potential types of strong impact. In 1943, Scanlon was granted U.S. Patent 2,333,273 for his device.

In the time since, the importance of the traffic cone has continued to grow in use across the nation and even worldwide. The traffic cone’s safety role increased even further after provisions for its use were first included in the Manual for Traffic Control Devices and then adopted as national standards in the Highway Safety Act of 1966.

For more information on traffic cones, please check out

Additional information on Charles D. Scanlon’s 1943 patent for a Safety Marker is available at


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