If someone were to ask me where I thought the first traffic signal was put to use in the U.S., I have to say that Salt Lake City wouldn't make my list even if I was given 10 or 15 guesses.

But apparently, Utah is laying claim to putting into operation the first functioning traffic signal in the U.S.

According to folks at the Utah Dept. of Transportation (UDOT), the invention of the traffic light came about 100 years ago and it belongs to Lester Wire, a police officer in Salt Lake City who they said had grown troubled by the congestion and danger developing from traffic at one of the city's busier intersections.

The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that Wire’s invention looked like a large birdhouse with lights dipped in green and red paint and placed into circular holes on each side. It was manually operated, with a police officer standing next to the signal mounted on a 10-foot pole. During peak times, the policeman’s job was to flick a switch to change it from red to green.

UDOT Executive Director John Njord said the invention changed motor vehicle history.

"We can imagine what life would be like without signals at all," Njord said. "It’s not a pretty picture to imagine." But Njord acknowledged that, while they believe Wire’s traffic signal in 1912 was the first, he didn’t get the patent for creating the technology.

That patent instead went to James Hoge, who saw his traffic-light invention installed in Cleveland in 1914. A cruder version featuring two semaphore arms directing traffic to stop is believed to have debuted in London in 1868.

Lisa Miller, UDOT spokeswoman, said they think that Wire got drafted and served in World War I and was unable to see the patent process through. "People laughed when they first saw it," Miller said. "They thought it was confusing."

Njord said Wire’s influence is seen everywhere today and he thinks he’d be amazed at what his invention had spawned

"From a converted birdhouse on Main Street in Salt Lake City, the traffic signal can now be found throughout the world," he said. "Even in the most remote locations."