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Innovators of Yorkshire

14th February 2019


As innovators and inventors ourselves, we’re always excited to see how ground-breaking technology is being used around the world. With Innovation Day just round the corner, we’re celebrating three of the most pioneering inventions to come out of our home county of Yorkshire.

Percy Shaw – Motorway Cat’s Eyes

Percy Shaw was an inventor and business man from Halifax, West Yorkshire. Whilst the name may not be instantly recognisable, Shaw was responsible for one for the UK’s most widely used and often over looked inventions.

In 1934, Shaw combined polished strips of steel and a reflective lens to create a device which reflected light so it was visible both during the day and at night. He patented the invention a year later under the trademark Catseye and wide spread usage of the device on roads came in the blackouts of World War I when they were developed even further to encompass a metal stud design.

Slowly, the invention spread throughout the UK and then all over the world as transport ministries became aware of their value in guiding drivers at night. In 2006, the Catseye was voted one of Britain’s top 10 design icons in a poll organised by the BBC and Design Museum.


Harry Brearley – Stainless Steel

Brearley was born in Sheffield so perhaps it’s unsurprising he is so strongly associated with steel. During a period of increased arms manufacturing in World War I, Brearley began to research new ways to improve steel’s resistance to corrosion and heat. By adding chromium to raw steel, he stumbled across the alloy we now know as stainless steel.

Upon this discovery, the development of stainless steel began to take off exponentially, partially because of the strong history of steel in Brearley’s home city of Sheffield. Stainless steel was used primarily for the manufacturing of cutlery in the city, due to its resistance to rusting. The alloy was so widely used that the term ‘rustless steel’ was coined before it gradually changed to ‘stainless steel’ over time.

The invention was so ground-breaking that a 13m high mural of Brearley was commissioned in Sheffield to mark the 100th anniversary of his invention.

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James Henry Atkinson – The Mousetrap

One of the more unusual inventions came from James Atkinson who was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire in 1849. Atkinson, after growing fed up of the at the number of unwanted intruders in his home, began to create a design that is now instantly recognisable and widely used in the modern day.

Atkinson developed the first spring operated mousetraps which to this day is still regarded as one of the fastest and most effective mousetraps. He labelled his invention the ‘Little Nipper’ and patented his invention before he began to mass produce them himself.

Eventually, Atkinson sold his patent for £1000 in 1913 to a company called Procter, who have been manufacturing the ‘Little Nipper’ ever since. In the factory headquarter, there are over 150 mousetraps on display, paying tribute to Atkinson’s original invention.

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At Harrison Spinks, we can't afford to sleep on the job. We’re always looking forward to the next big thing. Our pioneering ethos has already been recognised twice with two Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in Innovation in 2013 and 2018, but we have no plans to stop there.

Take a look at how we've taken steps to be industry leaders since the day we started back in 1840...

Innovators Since 1840…