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Incredible Inventions

Road Lines

Inventor: John D. Millar (dates unknown)

Today, drivers know to stay in their own lane or on their side of the dividing line. Imagine the confusion and inevitable accidents if there were no lines to keep cars from veering over to the wrong side of the road. It's hard to believe that road lines haven't been around as long as traffic itself. Incredibly, there was no such thing as road lines before 1930. Before then, drivers sometimes stuck evergreen boughs into the snow to mark lanes and depended on horns and sleigh bells to warn oncoming traffic.

Photograph of a danger sign on a road in Winona, Ontario, 1922

Danger sign on a road in Winona, Ontario, May 21, 1922

Photograph of a car and truck involved in an accident, with onlookers standing nearby and men assessing the damage, 1929

Automobile accident on a road without lines, 1929

In 1930, John D. Millar, an engineer working for the Ontario Department of Transport thought up the idea of painting lines on roads. The world's first lines were painted on a portion of highway near the Ontario/Quebec border. This innovation caught on quickly and within three years white lines were a common standard throughout North America. Over time, double, dashed, yellow and other lines were added to send various messages to drivers. With today's vehicular congestion, people owe a lot to this Canadian for keeping traffic organized and predictable. If it weren't for Millar's idea, driving would be a lot like the bumper car ride at amusement parks, but without the fun!


Bowers, Vivien. Only in Canada!: from the Colossal to the Kooky. Toronto: Owl Books, 2002.

Penny, Laura. "White Lines", Saturday Night Magazine, 2000.