Shaw, Percy

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b. 1889 Yorkshire, England d. 1975
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English inventor of the "catseye" reflecting roadstud.
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Little is known of Shaw's youth, but in the 1930s he was running a comparatively successful business repairing roads. One evening in 1933, he was driving to his home in Halifax, West Yorkshire; it was late, dark and foggy and only the reflection of his headlights from the tram-tracks guided him and kept him on the road. He decided to find or make an alternative to tramlines, which were not universal and by that time were being taken up as trams were being replaced with diesel buses.
Shaw needed a place to work and bought the old Boothtown Mansion, a cloth-merchant's house built in the mid-eighteenth century. There he devoted himself to the production of a prototype of the reflecting roadstud, inspired by the reflective nature of a cat's eyes. Shaw's design consisted of a prism backed by an aluminium mirror, set in pairs in a rubber casing; when traffic passed over the stud, the prisms would be wiped clean as the casing was depressed. In 1934, Shaw obtained permission from the county surveyor to lay, at his own expense, a short stretch of catseyes on a main highway near his home: fifty were laid at Brightlington cross-roads, an accident blackspot near Bradford. This was inspected by a number of surveyors in 1936. The first order for catseyes had already been placed in 1935, for a pedestrian crossing in Baldon, Yorkshire. There were alternative designs in existence, particularly in France, and in 1937 the Ministry of Transport laid an 8 km (5 mile) stretch in Oxfordshire with sample lengths of different types of studs. After two years, most of them had fractured, become displaced or ceased to reflect; only the product of Shaw's company, Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd, was still in perfect condition. The outbreak of the Second World War brought blackout regulations, which caused a great boost to sales of reflecting roadstuds; orders reached some 40,000 per week. Production was limited, however, due to the shortage of rubber supplies after the Japanese overran South-East Asia; until the end of the war, only about 12,000 catseyes were produced a year.
Over fifty million catseyes have been installed in Britain, where on average there are about two hundred and fifty catseyes in each kilometre of road, if laid in a single line. The success of Shaw's invention brought him great wealth, although he continued to live in the same house, without curtains—which obstructed his view—or carpets—which harboured odours and germs. He had three Rolls-Royce cars, and four television sets which were permanently switched on while he was at home, each tuned to a different channel.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
OBE 1965.
Further Reading
E.de Bono (ed.), 1979, Eureka, London: Thames \& Hudson.
"Percy's bright idea", En Route (the magazine of the Caravan Club), reprinted in The Police Review, 23 March 1983.
IMcN

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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