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Percy Shaw: A Cat’s Eye View

The Catseye road stud has been ranked in a poll as one of the top 10 Great British design icons, but who invented this ingenious road safety device, and where did inspiration for the idea come from?

Cats eye for road

© tiwakorn / Adobe Stock Photo


Made in Yorkshire

Yorkshireman Percy Shaw is credited for the invention of the Catseye. Born in Halifax in 1890, Percy displayed an inventive streak from an early age. After working in industry from the age of 13, he acquired skills that enabled him to invent carpets with rubber backings, a new method to re-metal ends of cars and a miniature motorised roller to lay asphalt.

Yet, it's Percy's invention of the reflective stud markings found on roads throughout the world today that he's most famous for.


Inspiration for the Catseye

Percy is thought to have gained inspiration for developing the Catseye when he was driving down a particularly dangerous stretch of road near Halifax one night. He would normally rely on the reflection of his car lights against the tram tracks to guide him, but it's said that the tracks had been removed for repair on this foggy night, making road visibility poor.

Cats eyes

© dusk / Adobe Stock Photo

Percy is then thought to have spotted a stray cat at the side of the road and noticed how the cat's eyes reflected back at him through his headlights. This made him realise how a similar reflective light could be placed in the middle of the road to guide drivers at night.


Catseye invention

After a lot of trial and error with his new idea, Percy took out a patent in 1934.

He made the Catseyes from two pairs of cylindrical glass set in a rubber dome, mounted in a housing made from cast-iron. These sturdy, weatherproof studs would be buried in the asphalt of the road to keep them in place. If a vehicle drove over them, the rubber would shrink, allowing the glass to drop beneath the road surface so it wouldn't get damaged.

Further enhancements to Percy's design enabled the Catseye to self-clean with rainwater so that whenever a vehicle drove over the device, it would push water up over it to clean the glass.

In 1935, Percy set up a company called Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd, to produce his road studs (Catseye is actually his trademark brand). Although business was slow to start with, orders soon picked up once World War II and the blackout kicked in. At its peak, the company was making in excess of a million Catseyes every week.

The business is still going strong today, and Catseyes are now found on 99% of roads in the UK, as well as worldwide. Percy was awarded an OBE for his road safety invention and services to exports in 1965.


Catseye types

There are various types of Catseyes used on roads today, distinguished by colour. These are used to provide information and warnings to drivers.

White studs are used to separate lanes, while red ones are placed near the hard shoulder. Amber studs are used along the central reservation edge, while green ones let drivers know they're leaving or joining slip roads at junctions. If there are any roadworks occurring, studs to highlight temporary changes to layouts are marked in green or yellow. Slip roads used by emergency vehicles are marked with blue Catseyes.

In more recent times, solar-powered and flashing LED Catseyes have been introduced on some roads where visibility is often poor.

Percy's Catseye invention wouldn't have been possible without using rubber, proving just how valuable, durable and versatile this material is for making a wide variety of products. If you require rubber products, such as matting, sheeting or mouldings, you'll find a great range of high-quality options at Coruba.

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