Inspiration struck when his headlights reflected in a cat's eyes at the edge of the road.
The headlight moment
Late one night in 1933, Yorkshire road mender Percy Shaw was driving home after a long day of asphalting. It was so dark and foggy that Percy could hardly see where he was going when suddenly his headlights reflected in the eyes of a cat sitting at the edge of the road, and inspiration struck.
Developing the bright idea
Percy spent several years developing his reflective road markers. He needed to make a device bright enough to illuminate the road ahead and robust enough not to break when vehicles drove over it, and that would work in all weather conditions – with minimal need for maintenance.
Eyes in the road
Percy patented his solution in 1934. Two pairs of reflective glass spheres formed from convex lenses in front of an aluminium mirror. They were housed in a flexible rubber moulding and protected by a cast iron surrounding. The flexibility of the dome meant that if they were driven over, Catseyes were able to sink below the road’s surface. As well as protecting the Catseyes, this feature also allowed them to be self-cleaning. Every time the eyes sank into the road, their reflective surfaces were pushed past rubber wipers fixed to their base, wiping them clean. And the metal casing caused vibrations and made a distinctive sound – warning drivers that they were straying from their lane.
A slow journey
In 1935, Percy founded his own company, Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd, to manufacture his invention. But despite winning the Department for Transport’s 1937 competition to find a robust road reflector, the company struggled to drum up business. It wasn’t until World War II, when imposed blackouts made driving more perilous than ever, that Catseyes really proved their value. The company expanded and is still thriving today – manufacturing over a million Catseyes a year to be exported all over the world.