After watching a driver on my morning commute today weave abruptly through traffic, I was forced to think that his 2016 Toyota must not have them. Right? I thought they came free with the cars nowadays, but nah, let me guess where you are swerving next, only to catch up with you at the next light. I digress.
Although she did not patent her design, in 1914 actress Florence Lawrence created a push button operated signaling arm that raised and lowered a flag located on the rear bumper to indicate a turn. She also created a sign that read STOP that would pop up in the rear of the car when she pressed the brake, performing all of her own mechanical work as she created safety solutions that also included the first electric windshield wiper system.
Late to the patent game with England’s Percy Douglas-Hamilton’s 1909 U.S. patent 912831 for the device “indicating the intended movements of vehicles”, Lawrence’s tenacity stands out in the early automotive history as she pushed for automotive safety. Eventually Edgar Walz Jr. received the 1925 patent on a light with two arrows and a brake light, followed by Joseph Bells’s flashing device that resulted in Buick introducing turn signals in 1939 as standard.
Florence Lawrence sits behind the wheel of a Lozier open touring car with 1912 Pennsylvania license plates. [photo credit: Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research]