‘The most brilliant invention ever?’
That sounds like a pretty massive claim, so I guess I should admit to using just half of the quote to grab your attention. The full quote is as follows: ”The most brilliant invention ever produced in the interests of road safety.” At least, that’s what the House of Commons judged it to be a few decades ago. But “what?”, you may ask. Isn’t it obvious? I mean – it’s the most brilliant. I’m talking about cat’s eyes – not the ones the furry pets are forever grateful for, but the ones a Mr Percy Shaw invented. Invented and patented, which meant he became a very wealthy man.
Percy Shaw – the King of the Road?
Percy Shaw’s cat’s eyes are 2 bits of glass in rubber housing which are seen in the middle of the road in many countries in the world . When you are driving along at night, the glass reflects your headlights and so you know where you are going. It’s probably important to say that if you are driving in England then the cat’s eyes should be to your right. If they are on your left, like in Poland, then you are driving on the wrong side of the road and will have an accident! Cat’s eyes can be lots of different colours and are used in other locations like airport runways too.
Cat’s eyes; Image Credit: www.telegraph.co.uk
One man’s struggle, became everyone else’s gain!
But why “cat’s eyes”? Quite simply because that was Percy Shaw’s inspiration and so that’s what they look like. The story goes that he was driving home one foggy night – this was the 1930s and roads weren’t very clearly marked back then. Normally he followed some tram lines to make sure he was going the right way, but the tram lines had been taken up for repair, so he was finding it a bit tricky. Then he noticed a cat on the side of the road, staring at him and the light from his headlights was reflecting in the cat’s eyes. It was a “eureka!” moment for Percy and after some trial and error he finally came up with a product, patented it and started manufacturing it.
Road with cat’s eyes; Image Credit: dailyinterestingjournal.blogspot.com
Blackouts, planes and cat’s eyes
The real breakthrough came during the second world war when Britain had blackouts – no lights could be used – even cars had to have shutters on their lights. Cat’s eyes didn’t alert German bomber planes and so were very practical and the company started producing them by the million. The rest, you could say, is history.
A Brit’s perspective in Poland
As an Englishman driving in Poland I must say I would really appreciate more cat’s eyes – especially in the wet. However, I love this new ‘noisy’ paint which is becoming more and more commonly used – it almost screams at you when you drive over it! Brilliant! Maybe this is the latest “best invention”.
So, are cat’s eyes ”The most brilliant invention ever produced in the interests of road safety.”? What do you think? Have you got any other suggestions?