Bronze-Traffic-Statue-Mercury_New-York_Untapped CitiesImage via Mitch Kahn

When walking along the street, we hardly ever take note of the unobtrusive stoplights that grace the corner of nearly every street in New York. But unlike today’s posts (along with the bike lane lights that have been appearing over the past few years), the traffic tower, a 23-foot structure that kept traffic flowing in the 1920s, used to be very inconveniently situated in the middle of the road. Soon after they were placed along Fifth Avenue, they were deemed an obstacle to traffic and were removed by 1929. 

The architect of the original towers, Joseph H. Freedlander, was once again commissioned to design the replacement for the tower—this time, a sleeker bronze light post. Standing at 14-feet, the 104 posts were installed along the corners of Fifth Avenue and completely replaced the towers by 1931. These neoclassical posts featured an ornate, gold-leafed bronze statue of Mercury wearing a World War I helmet, which you can see a closeup of here.

Although they were much more functional than their clunky predecessors, the city began replacing these older traffic lights by 1964. So far, we only know of six Mercury statues that have survived: two are in the Museum of the City of New York, one is in the offices of the Fifth Avenue Association, two were sold at Sotheby’s, and the last one was auctioned at Doyle New York.

Read more about cross walk buttonsbike lane lights, and traffic towers in our Cities 101 column.

 Fifth Avenue, history, manhattan

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