My unofficial mission for these videos is to talk about stuff that, normally, I’d be too embarrassed to discuss with any normal, well-adjusted person. My obsession with this dirt-common, unremarkable taillight absolutely fits that category. Here, where you’ve made some sort of ill-considered choice to click on that video, it’s okay. But I think if I cornered some poor bastard at a party and started ranting about this, I’d be told maybe I really should be getting back home to check on my, oh, anything. But I’m not at a party, so you better motherrespecting believe we’re gonna talk about the Box Taillight.
I’m not exactly certain where I heard the term “box taillight” to refer to these, but I think it was from a supplier I reached out to during my research to find who designed it. The name works, so that’s what I’m sticking with.
This humble taillight has been slapped on almost anything with wheels—dump trucks, Humvees, Jeeps, weird EVs, box trucks, cement mixers, anything and everything. It’s everywhere and so common as to be unnoticeable, but if you actually take a moment to consider it, it’s a great bit of design.
I’ve been wondering about the origins of this light since at least 2013, and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t made much headway. My most recent research is leaning to Ford as the earliest adopter of the lamp, sometime around 1968, but I’m still not certain if they designed it, or bought it from a source.
Patent searches seem to only bring up derivative designs, or copies of the original. I’m still hoping one day I will discover the original designer, and when I do I’ll be sure to let everyone know their name, because they’ve designed something that’s become a quiet and hidden icon of automotive design.
Oh! As an aside, and so you can understand the commitment to old crap I’m bringing to these videos, the display on that monitor behind me isn’t being displayed by a modern computer—it’s a real Apple //e displaying that image (the one I got for my Bar Mitzvah way back when), and I wrote a simple program in Applesoft BASIC to draw a lo-res box taillight image. Here, look:
I show you this just so we’re absolutely certain that I’m not fucking around here.