…From Cars To Bikes, From Pavement To Pedestrians
Long before it occurred to anybody to use reflectors for increasing the visibility and safety of pedestrians, reflectors were used on vehicles: automobiles, bicycles, motorcycles, and even horse-drawn carriages.
Reflectors developed out of working with lenses and studying their light refracting capabilities. The first known patent for a device called a reflector was granted to a German named Rudolf Straubel in 1906. In his patent application, he says that his invention is an improvement of A.Beck’s “triple mirror” system. Straubel did not describe any particular practical applications of his invention, he was more concerned with its technical properties of reflecting the light back more precisely than was possible with previously known methods.
In 1912, a patent was awarded to a Britt named Robert Venner for a method of increasing the visibility of signs and name plates. The working principle of the invention was to set glass spheres in grooves on the surface of the name plate or sign, so that it would be rendered visible in one or more directions by reflected light.1
About a decade later, in the 1920s, the use of glass spheres, also known as cataphotes or “cat’s eyes” became widespread in Great Britain in order to increase the visibility of traffic signs.
The first patent for a device called a reflector, which was intended for increasing the visibility of a vehicle in traffic, was granted in 1925 to a US citizen Jonathan C Stimson. Stimson’s goal with is invention was to add an illuminating device, which would not require an additional electrical source, as is the case with additional head lamps for example, but would reflect the light. Thus it was not really a retroreflector, but rather a device, which was meant to illuminate the indicating device commonly placed on top of the car’s radiator at that time. The device would use the light of the head lamps, and reflect it into the radiator temperature indicator, thus illuminating it and helping to make the car better visible in the dark.
In the 1920 and ‘30s, both the automobile and bicycle manufacturing industries were growing at a brisk pace, and as motorized traffic was becoming denser, concerns over traffic safety were increasing worldwide. European states passed different laws relating to traffic (many passed their first traffic laws), and some of those also included making reflectors on bicycles mandatory. The first bicycle reflectors were a series of glass beads or cataphotes fastened into a metal housing.
In 1933, the cataphote reflectors were first installed in the pavement in Great Britain in order to increase road visibility.
The restrictions on electricity usage and the darkening measures during the Second World War further helepd to promote the usage of reflectors in traffic.
The first known invention relating to the concept that pedestrians should also attempt to make themselves better visible, was published in the US magazine “Popular Science” in January of 1943, and depicted a metal shoulder clip with a single cataphote for pedestrians, invented by a US highway patrolman Raymond Trask.2
However, the widespread use of pedestrian reflectors came about first in Finland, and in the 1960s.
In the mid-1960’s, the Finnish Traffic Police and the Finnish Traffic Safety Organization turned to a local Finnish firm, Talousmuovi (“Household Plastic” in translation), in order to obtain a reflector that could be used by pedestrians. As a result of product development, a product was created that was officially approved by the authorities as a safety device. The municipalities in Finland then began to campaign for pedestrian reflector use and held competitions for this, which proved effective. Toward the late ‘60s, reflector use in rural areas was up to about 40%.
The Swedes like to think that they should be credited with inventing the pedestrian reflector, as the head of the Swedish National Society For Road Safety, Alvar Thorson, started to promote the use a silver-colored reflector for pedestrians in 1954. However, it turned out that the light reflecting qualities of it were not very good, and it never gained much popularity.
Today, most pedestrian reflectors are either made of plastic, and use the prismatic technology, just like the ones first created by the Finnish company Talousmuovi, or Talmu, as it is now called, or are soft reflectors consisting of two plastic sheets coated with retroreflective material, and melted together at seams.
Now, you can own a decorative pedestrian reflector. Get yours at http://www.visibelreflective.com