At WFDD, we’ve been advocates for consistent turn signal usage, particularly in a region where compliance is, to put it mildly, inconsistent.

There are several historical claims as to who actually invented blinkers. A woman named Florence Lawrence said she developed an early design in 1914. And the Smithsonian National Museum of American History credits Oscar Simler for a device that was patented in 1929.

So our curiosity was piqued when we learned that the origins of the turn signal might be traced back to eastern North Carolina.

Dr. Stephen Bond is an author and educator who was recently elected vice president of the North Carolina Council for the Social Studies.

According to Bond, his grandfather David George Bond invented the turn signal, but his achievement was overlooked by the history books due to the racist practices of the time. Bond has told the story in a book entitled Unsung But Forever Remembered: The Man Who Invented the Automobile Turn Signal David George Bond.

WFDD's Neal Charnoff spoke with Stephen Bond about his grandfather. 

Interview highlights

On registering a patent:

He actually got a patent from the US government. He had applied for the patent the year before, January 1926. And about 13 months later, he got the patent, US government, for a turn signal patent, with also brake lights in the back, which is pretty awesome to me, to do that at the age of 19. 

On the challenges of selling his invention in the Jim Crow South:

He tried to find some buyers for the invention. Ford at the time was around, Chrysler and General Motors. However, he didn't get much feedback and the biggest issue was the threats he got from the white supremacist groups around Martin and Bertie Counties at the time. So he had to be discreet, even when he told other people about the invention because did get threats against his life, and his children's lives. And when the time came to renew the patent he was low on funds, so, unfortunately, the patent expired.  

On his grandfather's perseverance: 

He was frustrated by it, he didn't tell people about it, I didn't even know about it probably until I was a teenager because it was not discussed much. He's denied by history. But at the same time, he didn't complain. He still persisted in life, to be the best father and grandfather he could be. And my goal really, is that he's in history books. That he did invent and patent the signal light.  

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