The Father of the Yield

by Kristi Eaton


The “yield” sign is a common occurrence in the apartment of 91-year-old Veda Riggs.

There’s the yellow triangular clock in one room of her apartment. In another room hangs a specialized “yield” sign given to her by Chad Smith, chief of the Cherokee Indian tribe, in honor of her heritage. Then, there are the numerous newspaper clippings detailing the creation of the sign.

It was Veda’s late husband Clinton Riggs, a police captain with the Tulsa Police Department, who created the sign in Tulsa back in 1950. Back then the signs looked a little different than they do today. The yellow signs were shaped like a keystone with black letters stating, “yield right of way.” The first two were installed at First Street and Columbia Avenue in Tulsa, which was then considered one of the most dangerous intersections. Riggs’s son, Thomas Riggs, has held on to one of the signs, while another remains on display in the Smithsonian Institute.

The modern day signs are a triangle shape with a red background and “yield” written in the center.

Although commonplace now, the “yield” sign was an anomaly back then. And Rigg’s approach to its creation was anything but quick.”

Born in Fairview in 1910, Clinton Riggs graduated from Tulsa Central High School in 1929 and joined TPD in 1934. He served until 1937, at which point he joined the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. He returned to the Tulsa Police Department after serving in the Army Air Corps as an intelligence and plant protection officer during World War II. He retired from the police department in 1970, after achieving the rank of administrative assistant chief. Along the way, he got his law degree at the University of Tulsa.

It was during his time as a trooper that Riggs conceived the idea of the “yield” sign, and he began developing it while attending Chicago’s Northwestern Traffic Institute in 1939.

He spent more than a decade experimenting with the sign, according to the Tulsa Police Department’s history book. His goal was a sign that would not only control traffic at an intersection but would also attach liability in a collision if one driver failed to yield.

A newspaper account at the time describes how the “new and experimental” sign was catching on.

“From Tulsa it spread to Ft. Wayne, Ft. Worth, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Providence and many other cities. Recently all sizeable California cities began using ‘YIELDS.’ Even New York City has a few,” wrote Edward D. Fales, Jr., in an article in The St. Petersburg Times in 1956, which detailed what people were to do if they came across a “yield” sign.

What’s the best thing about the sign, according to the article? “They save you time, temper — and money (because every stop you make in traffic costs you 5c or more).”

Moreover, engineers in Dallas were pleasantly surprised by how grateful women were for the signs, the article said. Some women were apparently afraid to stop at night, so a yield sign helped them feel safe from roadside prowlers.

Riggs, who also designed a TPD badge based on the yield sign, is the author of the law bearing his name that prohibits convicted felons from carrying firearms. In 1993, the Uniform Division Southwest, 7515 S. Riverside Drive, was renamed the Clinton Riggs Police Station South. Clinton Riggs passed away in 1997 at the age of 86.