Morgan Pritchett
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A Brief History of the Turn Signal

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A close-up of a turn signal
Photo: Jacek Rużyczka via CC

Turn signals can be a source of both comfort and frustration on the road. It’s great when someone lets you know exactly where they intend to go by using their blinker. And it’s almost as if the rest of the drivers on the road don’t even know that turn signals exist. But have you ever wondered what prompted the invention of the turn signal and how it has evolved over the years? Let’s dive in.


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Early beginnings

An actress named Florence Lawrence is credited with designing an “auto signaling arm” in 1915 after she became enamored with the first vehicle that she purchased with her own money. Sadly, she didn’t patent her invention and then fell victim to some unlucky life events from then on out. According to the National Museum of American History, the first successful turn signal was invented by Oscar J. Simler in 1929, and it wasn’t until 1939 that consumers would see them on cars. However, in between Lawrence and Simler, Edgar A. Walz, Jr. also created and patented a version of a turn signal in 1925 that eventually expired 14 years later with no interest from the auto industry.

What has changed since then?

Buick was one of the first automakers to include turn signals on its vehicles and it advertised the new safety feature as a “Flash-Way Directional Signal.” The device was attached to the steering column, just as modern turn signals are located there today. While some of the components have been adjusted over the years, the overall concept of the modern turn signal is very similar to its early days. The most noticeable change is a quieter clicking sound in many vehicles, making it easy to forget that it’s on sometimes.


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While most of us use the turn signals included in our vehicles, you could also utilize hand signals while driving if your blinkers are ever on the fritz. Hey, you may even start a new trend and make the roads safer!