Born in Halifax in 1890, Percy Shaw grew up as one of fifteen children in Boothtown and attended Boothtown Board School. Being part of such a large family, it was important that Shaw should earn a wage and after leaving school at age 13 he worked in all of the main local industries to be found in Halifax including textiles, engineering and machine tool production. He later joined his father working in a machine tool workshop in Boothtown near the family home.
During the First World War the workshop began to make munitions for the war effort, as well as a special wire needed for making soldiers’ khaki leggings. By 1930, Shaw had begun working as a road contractor, and started his own business which he expanded and began to employ his own workers.
It was at this time that Percy invented reflective road studs. He often drove ‘Doris,’ his 1916 Model T Ford on the stretch of road between Queensbury and Boothtown. The road had a very steep drop at one side which Percy called ‘the death drop.’ The only light on the road at night came from the tram lines which Percy said shone ‘like twin silver ribbons’ and acted like a guide on the road. One foggy night when Percy was driving down the same road, he noticed a cat, sitting on a fence and noticed how its eyes pierced the darkness. The tram lines and the cat’s eyes provided Percy with the idea for reflective road studs.
Finding suitable materials for the new invention was difficult and the crystal glass used in the studs could only be sourced in Czechoslovakia. Percy made several prototypes of the stud and tested them on the road before he was happy with his invention. Percy’s road stud was unique because it had a rubber cushion which collected rainwater and closed like an eyelid over the glass stud when a car tyre ran over it. Thus, the reflective stud was kept clean. He patented his invention as Catseyes in 1934 and founded his company, Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd in 1935.
During the blackouts of the Second World War Catseyes became extremely popular, with orders coming into the small workshop of 40,000 per week. His Catseyes were dubbed ‘the most brilliant invention ever produced in the interests of road safety’. When bigger premises were needed, Percy insisted on staying in the old workshop he had worked in with his father and so the workshop was expanded and built around Percy’s favourite tree which was left to grow through the factory roof.
Despite his success, Percy continued to live in the house he had lived in since he was two. He was awarded the OBE in 1965 and died on the 1st September 1976.