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Media post: The History of Turn Signals

1939 Buick Special Model 41-CIn 1939 Buick was the 1st US camaker to offer flashing turn signals as standard.

We realize that there are some people who don’t use turn signals, and others who use it every single time they make a turn or switch lanes. However, have you ever wondered how turn signals evolved on modern-day cars? You have come to the right place to read about how turn signals have come to be! Read on for more information.

Inventions That Didn’t Make it to the Modern Day

Original turn signals weren’t really turn signals; instead, a driver would stick their hand out the window to indicate which way they were planning on turning. Arm up meant turning right, arm down meant a left turn and holding an arm straight out meant the driver was stopping.

We will start with Percy Douglas-Hamilton, who in 1907 applied for a patent, received in 1909 as U.S. patent 912831, for a device “indicating the intended movements of vehicles.” Douglas-Hamilton’s lights were shaped like hands because Douglas-Hamilton believed that drivers would easily understand hand signals.

In 1914 silent-film actress Florence Lawrence designed, but did not patent, a mechanical signaling arm. With Lawrence’s design, a driver would push a button to make a sign on the rear bumper appear to tell other drivers which way this vehicle’s operator was turning. Lawrence spoke to The Green Book Magazine, telling them that her mechanical signaling arm could be raised or lowered by electric push buttons. There was even a “stop” function that worked “automatically whenever the foot brake is pressed.” Lawrence had taken after her mother, who in 1918 patented a “cleaning device” for windshields.

If you are interested in visiting the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., you will find a handmade one-off signal made by Oscar J. Simler in 1929. That turn signal had a four-lobed shape with lenses for lights indicating left turn, right turn or slow.

First Modern-Day Turn Signal

In 1925 Edgar A. Walz Jr. secured a patent for a turn signal similar to ones we have right now. Walz marketed his turn signal to major car manufacturers, but they didn’t care about this new invention and Walz’s patent expired less than a decade and a half later.

In 1939 Buick was the first United States automaker to offer flashing turn signals that were factory-installed on their vehicles. These flashing turn signals were introduced as safety features, and a unit was advertised as the “Flash-Way Directional Signal” that a driver used a “Handi-shift” column-mounted shifter to operate. These turn signals only worked for the rear lights, but this was no doubt a useful invention. But, in 1940 Buick put signals on the front lights as well leading directional signals to be required on every Buick, LaSalle, Cadillac and Hudson County Club vehicle.

If anything ever goes wrong with your turn signals, such as a bad bulb or an open circuit, Hyundai of White Plains, NY, a local car dealer, will be there to repair them. We hope this article has given you some insight on how turn signals have evolved throughout their time!

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