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90 Years of Illuminating Roads: Celebrating the Cat’s Eye Road Marker

cat's eye road marker

April 3, 2024 – Imagine driving at night on a twisting, unlit road, the darkness enveloping everything but the small patch illuminated by your headlights. Now, consider how a simple invention revolutionized nighttime driving, making it safer and more reliable. Today marks the 90th anniversary of a groundbreaking innovation that’s likely saved countless lives: the cat’s eye road marker.

Invented in 1934 by Yorkshire’s own Percy Shaw, the cat’s eye road marker was a beacon of safety in an era when night driving was perilous. Shaw, inspired by a reflective encounter with a feline’s eyes, patented a device that would become synonymous with road safety. But how did a moment with a cat lead to an invention that would span the globe?

The Spark of Invention

Percy Shaw’s eureka moment is the stuff of legend. One foggy night, driving home from the Old Dolphin public house, Shaw narrowly avoided disaster thanks to the reflective eyes of a cat perched on a fence. This encounter sparked an idea: What if the roads themselves could reflect light, guiding drivers through the dark?

Shaw set to work, devising a system of reflective glass spheres set within a rubber dome, encased in cast iron. The design was ingenious: the dome would flex under the weight of passing traffic, a built-in wiper cleaning the reflectors, ensuring they remained visible. It wasn’t just about visibility; the tactile and auditory feedback from the metal ‘kerbs’ alerted drivers if they strayed from their lane. On April 3rd, 1934, he filed his first patent for the cat’s eye road marker.

From Slow Start to Global Standard

Despite its initial slow uptake, the cat’s eye became a staple of road safety, its production bolstered by World War II blackouts and Ministry of Transport approval. Shaw’s invention didn’t stop evolving; a later patent introduced a rainwater reservoir to keep the “eyes” clean, further enhancing their effectiveness. Whenever it rained, which is quite often in Britain, water would gather in the reservoir and cars driving over the stud would splash it clean.

Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd, Shaw’s brainchild, would go on to produce over a million roadstuds annually, exporting them worldwide. Shaw’s contribution to road safety was recognized with an OBE in 1965, a testament to an invention that transcended its humble beginnings.

Legacy of a Visionary

Percy Shaw remained a figure of eccentricity and innovation until his passing in 1975. Though he never married, his legacy was his invention, a gift to drivers everywhere. Despite rumors of wealth, Shaw’s estate was valued modestly at his death. His life, from the innovative to the eccentric, highlights a man who saw beyond the present, envisioning a safer path forward.

Reflecting on 90 Years

As we mark the 90th anniversary of Shaw’s patent, it’s clear the cat’s eye road marker has become more than just a safety device; it’s a symbol of human ingenuity and the relentless pursuit of better, safer roads. Its design, virtually unchanged, continues to guide drivers worldwide.

So, the next time you find yourself driving at night, guided by those reassuring glints on the road, spare a thought for Percy Shaw and his nighttime encounter. In a world constantly striving for safety and innovation, the cat’s eye remains a shining example of what’s possible when creativity meets necessity.


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