Picture it.

Detroit, 1911. With over 465,000 residents, it's already the 9th-largest city in America, and thanks to the burgeoning auto industry, its population is about to explode.

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At this time, cars are obviously a very new thing. There's no such thing yet as "rules of the road". Car crashes happen frequently, most often deadly, for a couple chief reasons: 1) all drivers are inexperienced, and 2), everybody pretty much travels down the middle of the road.

Enter Edward N. Hines.

Hines and a couple other men (one of them being Henry Ford) are members of the Wayne County Board of Roads, charged with overseeing ground travel in Detroit and its neighboring communities. Two years prior, Hines had already had a hand in developing the world's first full mile of concrete-paved roadway: Detroit's Woodward Avenue between Six and Seven Mile Roads. But he was about to stumble upon something else that would inspire him to come up with one of the most important inventions in the history of highway safety.

Photo via Canva
Photo via Canva

While traveling along a dusty (unpaved) Detroit road, the story goes that Hines found himself behind a leaky milk truck. The truck was leaving a trail of milk, splashing right down the center of the road. That's when it occurred to Hines that purposeful lines could be designed to separate traffic and lower the risk of head-on collisions, which were by now becoming all too common.

The first painted center lines in highway safety history happened in 1911 in Trenton, Michigan, along a stretch of River Road. During the ensuing years, more and more roads in the Detroit area would receive similar markings. By 1922, Detroit's population had doubled to nearly 1,000,000 people, and all major roads in Wayne County had center lines.

Next time you're traveling in Southeast Michigan and see a road named for Edward N. Hines, you'll know why!

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