Cat's Eyes - a bright idea from Yorkshire


Cat's Eyes - a bright idea from Yorkshire

A cat's eye (or road stud) is a retroreflective safety device, widely used in road markings, and invented by Yorkshireman Percy Shaw. It was patented in 1934, and was the first of a range of raised pavement markers from Shaw's company.

In 2006, it was voted as one of Britain's top 10 design icons in the Great British Design Quest.

The concept of cat's eyes came to Shaw when the tramlines were removed in Ambler Thorn - near to where he lived in Boothtown, Halifax. It made him realise that he had been using polished steel rails to navigate at night, and that motorists had been reliant upon these visual aids.

The catalyst apparently came one night when he was driving down a twisting road, through the village of Queensbury. A sharp reflection in his headlights caused him to stop his car - and to discover the reflection had been the eyes of a cat. He also saw that he had been driving on the wrong side of the road, and may have plummeted over the edge! He applied his spare time to developing the idea of 'Catseye studs' solution to this.

In 1934 Shaw patented his new invention, and in 1935, he founded Reflecting Roadstuds Limited in Halifax to manufacture the items. It was initially difficult to persuade the authorities to adopt his product, but the blackout in the Second World War highlighted its utility, as cars had to adopt shuttered headlights. This popularised the mass use of the cat's eye, and almost a decade later, they were widely installed on UK roads - and around the world.

A later patent added a rainwater reservoir to the rubber shoe, which could be used to wash the glass "eyes" when a car drove over the stud.

The invention of the "cat's eye" was such a success that Shaw was rewarded with an OBE for services to exports in 1965.

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