10 Explanations to Why Everyday Things Have Specific Colors

10 Explanations to Why Everyday Things Have Specific Colors

We are so used to the things around us, that often times, our brain ignores small details such as color. However, if you pay close attention, you would find that there’s a reason for everything that happens around us. For instance, school buses and taxis are yellow, whereas fire trucks and fire hydrants are red in color. Likewise, there are many things around us that are assigned a specific color, which we get used to. Whether it be a scientific reason, or just for the fun of it, here are 10 explanations as to why some of the everyday things around us have specific colors.

1. Fire hydrants come in many different colors — red, orange, yellow, violet, blue and green— and have have an important meaning.

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Image: Ashim/Jacob

Many fire hydrants are bright red in color, which is also one of the most associated colors. However, they don’t just come in one color, but have three distinctive colors – red, yellow, and violet. Each color a fire hydrant is painted with represents the GPM or Gallons Per Minute. The 4 most popular colors, and the biggest fires they can extinguish are:

Red: 500 GPM or less, for a 2-story house that’s 50 ft by 50 ft and 20 ft tall.
Orange: 500-1,000 GPM, for a 4-story house that’s 50 ft by 50 ft and 40 ft tall.
Green: 1000-1500 GPM, for a 4-story house that’s 61 by 61 and 40 ft tall.
Blue: 1500 GPM or more, for a 4-story house that’s 70 by 70 feet and 40 ft tall.

Other colors don’t necessarily refer to GPM, and are rather an indicator to the source of the water. For instance, a yellow fire hydrant means that the water comes from a public supply system, whereas, violet means the water comes from a lake or pond. (source)

2. There is a reason why traffic lights are red, yellow and green. Due to the difference in wavelengths, red light is the most visible from afar, and yellow is less visible than red, but more visible than green.

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Image: Harshal Desai

There are millions of traffic lights all across the globe. In the United States alone, there are more than 300,000 traffic lights bearing the colors red, yellow and green. The lights help keep a constant flow of traffic everyday, but did you know that they were not in fact invented to be used on the roads? The traffic light was first invented and used to maintain train routes. In the beginning, they only had two colors: red for stop and white for go. This however, became problematic since train drivers often mistook other white lights nearby as a ‘go’ signal, which prompted engineers to change the white light to green.

When vehicles became part of every day life, road traffic regulators adopted the concept and added the yellow light, which means caution. The colors on a traffic light were not just randomly selected. They were chosen due to their ability to travel. For instance, the color red was chosen to represent ‘stop’ because red light has a higher wavelength and can travel further. Thus, the red light will be clearly visible to drivers from near and far. Yellow on the other hand, has a shorter wavelength than red, but longer wavelength than green. So, the colors are only visible when drivers approach an intersection, also allowing them to ensure that it is safe to pass. (source)

3. The reason why school buses are golden yellow is because the distinctive tint is the easiest color to see during the early morning and evening hours when buses operate.

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Image: Courtney Hobbs

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, school buses were simply vehicles that were capable of transporting. There were no industrial standards and people used various vehicles, including horse drawn carriages as school buses. In 1939, however, the Rockefeller Foundation and Columbia University professor Frank Cyr organized a conference that gathered together engineers and specialists to establish national standards for school buses. The conference created 44 school bus standards, that included details such as the height, width, specifications, as well as color. Experts found that three shades of yellow were easiest to see during the early morning and evening hours when buses operate.

The bold black letters on the sides are also eye-catching, which makes other drivers aware that the vehicle is indeed a school bus. The top of the school bus was chosen white because it reflects the most light, which helps control the heat inside. The golden yellow tint was ultimately chosen as the industry standard color and later named “National School Bus Glossy Yellow”. (source)

4. The reason why zebra crossings are black and white is because the pattern is visible to drivers from far distances. It also makes crossing pedestrians visible to drivers, since they stand out from the background.

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Image: Yoad Shejtman

The world’s first zebra crossing or crosswalk, was installed on October 31, 1951, in Slough, England. Since its inception, the concept became extremely popular, and was adapted by countries worldwide. During the 1950’s, England saw a rise in automobile ownership. However, people were still getting used to the idea of sharing the roads with drivers, which made it extremely difficult and dangerous. So, in order to make the roads safer to both the drivers and the pedestrians, the British government created the pedestrian crossings, which were basically made of metal studs. While the invention was for the greater good, it proved to be ineffective, since drivers were unable to see them from a distance.

So, the government decided to switch to colored markings and also launched a campaign to figure out which color works the best. As experts analyzed different colors and patterns, they found that the black and white combination worked best since it was clearly visible to drivers from a distance. The pattern also made the pedestrians stand out from the background, making them visible to unwary drivers. (source)

5. Taxis are yellow because it is the most visible color for a motor vehicle.

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Image: Luke Stackpoole

Albert Rockwell was the first known person to paint yellow on a taxi cab. In 1912, Rockwell founded the Yellow Taxicab Co. but the only reason for painting his taxis yellow was because his wife liked the color. However, in 1915, Chicago business man John Hertz launched his new business, which was a taxi company. In order to garner a large amount of business, Hertz started researching to see which color is the most eye-catching. Through his research, he found that yellow was in fact the color, which is noticeable from far away, so, he painted all his taxis yellow.

When other taxi companies got a whiff of Hertz’s new strategy, they quickly adapted and changed the color of their taxis to yellow. Thus, the world of yellow taxi cabs were born and became so common that New York City adapted the color code, requiring all taxis to be painted yellow. (source)

6. The reason why firetrucks are red in color is unclear. Some experts state that this is because in the olden days, red was the cheapest paint color available. Others say that it is because of competition between early firefighting brigades.

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Image: Michael Hutchinson

Red is the de facto color for a fire truck and it’s hard to imagine one in any other color. In some US states and other Western nations, you’ll find white, yellow, and even pink firetrucks. While we think the reason as to why firetrucks are painted red is because they are clearly visible from far away, it’s actually a mistake. According to historians, it all began in the early 1800’s, when organized fire departments were formed. When volunteers joined the response teams to help their communities, it became more of a rivalry between blocks in places such as New York and Baltimore. As a way of competing with each other, they would paint the firetrucks with the regal color, that is red. (source)

7. Most commercial airplanes are white because it reflects sunlight better than any other color. White or light colors also minimize both the heating and potential damage from solar radiation.

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Image: Daniel Eledut

We often see more commercial airplanes painted white, than any other color. While it makes the airplane look completely basic, the reason why they are painted white is because it makes them more efficient. AAccording to John Hansman, a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronauctics at MIT, “The main reason why aircrafts are painted white or light colors is to reflect sunlight and minimize both the heating and potential damage from solar radiation.. It’s basically the same as putting sun block on”. By painting an airplane white, companies save on cooling costs within the cabin. It also serves to protect certain parts of the plane that are more susceptible to heat damage. (source)

8. Tires are black instead of the natural white color of rubber because of carbon black. The fine carbon powder not only gives the black color, but also makes tires more durable, stronger and longer lasting.

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Image: Goh Rhy Yan

The natural color of rubber is white and in the early days, tires used to be white in color. This however, made them extremely ineffective since the mileage was less than 5,000 miles. Around the early 1900’s, tire manufacturers came up with a solution, which was to add carbon black to the tires. The fine powder not only made the tires black in color, but also increased their mileage by tens of thousands of miles, made it durable, stronger and longer lasting. Carbon black is also an excellent UV blocker to resist photochemical degradation of the rubber matrix. (source)

9. Toilet paper is white in color because it is bleached.

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Image: Pixabay

There are two reasons as to why toilet paper is white in color. The first is that manufacturers beach it, which gives it the white color. If they are not bleached, toilet paper would have a brownish-gray color, making it appear less desirable. The second reason is that humans have the natural tendency to believe that anything white is clean. Since some manufacturers produce toilet paper from recycled paper, they might appear in different shades. Even if the final product is clean and safe to use, seeing something in 10 different shades makes it less attractive. (source)

10. The reason why the majority of social media sites are blue is because it is a calming color.

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Image: Sara Kurfeb

There is a reason why most social media giants use blue color in their branding. Blue is not only a calming color, but is also perceived as being trustworthy, dependable, safe and reliable. A survey showed that the color blue is also the world’s most popular color, which is why most major companies incorporate at least a small portion of their logo with a blue hue. (source)

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