Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mr. Shaw and the Flashing Cat's Eyes

You know those little reflectors in the middle of the road that show you where the lanes are?  Someone had to invent them.  And someone did.  On April 3, 1934, Mr. Percy Shaw applied for a British patent entitled "Improvements relating to Blocks for Road Surface."   

A key aspect of the invention was not only that they reflected the light from oncoming cars but that their raised surfaces “yield when travelled over by a vehicle wheel and sink to the level of the road surface," so that they would not be damaged when run over by vehicle tires or, worse, a snow plow.  They were mounted on a resilient white rubber cushion in a metal holder below the road surface so that they could be pushed down and pop right back up again.

As the story goes, Mr. Shaw was driving down the curvy road from the Old Dolphin public house in the town of Clayton Heights to his home in Halifax.  As Mr. Shaw was rounding a curve, a cat on a fence along the edge of the road looked at the car – and its eyes reflected his headlights back to Shaw, allowing him turn and stay on the road.  That's how he got the idea.

According to British patent No. 436,290, Mr. Shaw’s first claim reads, “A block of the type specified for road surface marking wherein the base of the rubber filling is partially supported within the metal holder so that the filling will yield by displacement and deformation or by either, when travelled over by a vehicle wheel or stepped upon by a pedestrian and sink to the level of the road surface or thereabouts.”  

Based on his invention, Mr. Shaw started Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd. to manufacture and sell his reflectors.

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