Some Things Never Change . . . Like Headlight Glare

A New York Times article from earlier this year about the unpleasant intensity of LED headlights contained the following hilarious quote:

“Complaints about headlight glare are not new, and date back at least 20 years.”

Um, yes, complaints about headlight glare do date back at least 20 years. Or over 100 years. Whatever.

Trenton Evening Times, June 26, 1915
Idaho Daily Statesman, August 22, 1915
Harrisburg Courier, October 15, 1916

During the mid-1910s, state legislatures began addressing the problem of headlight glare.  In July of 1917, a new California law took effect that required headlight beams to rise no more than 42 inches at a point measured 75 feet or more in front of the car.   The following year, the New York legislature passed a law that contained the following specific requirements:

Some motorists were trying things like bending the headlight brackets or painting part of the bulbs to lessen glare, but there were other options. In conjunction with New York’s 1918 law, the New York Secretary of State actually named 45 anti-glare devices that had already been developed and that would put a vehicle in compliance. One of the devices appearing on that list was called the Osgood lens, and I recently found a couple of survivors:

Osgood Long Distance Lens, Size 9
Osgood Lens, 8-1/2

The idea behind this lens was the use of 12 horizontal prisms to direct all of the light outward and downward.  The company claimed that the Osgood lens provided 74% more brightness on the road than regular lenses because none of the light was wasted by being thrown into the air.

I am not sure who deserves the credit for these innovative lenses. According to the patent number embossed on one of them, they were invented by a man named Emerson Clark. Newspaper stories and ads at the time variously said the lenses were “perfected by,” “designed by” or “invented by” this handsome man, James R. Cravath:

1918 Advertisement

Cravath was described as “one of America’s foremost authorities on illumination,” and that appears to be an accurate depiction. The Illuminating Engineering Society still lists one of his 1908 papers on its list of 100 Significant Papers. A 1918 issue of Electrical Review described Cravath as a consulting engineer and executive in the electrical industry as well as the editor of publications such as Electrical World.

1919 Advertisement

This story illustrates why I love this era of American history. There was a problem (headlight glare), at least 45 people had already developed devices to solve the problem and those devices were made right here in America. Also, men’s hairstyles were better.

1918 Advertisement