This page intends to take a look at the history of the seat belt, particularly its stages of development. There is no doubt that seat belts have been one of the most important safety inventions of modern history, and are becoming increasingly important each and every year as the highways continue to become busier and cars become quicker, the idea of driving without a seat belt is quite simply ludicrous. But it is thanks to one man, George Cayley, that hundreds of thousands - maybe even millions - of lives worldwide have been saved. Cayley is widely considered to be the inventor of the seat belt in the late 19th century.
The History of the Seat Belt
A comprehensive look at the history of the seat belt, from initial inception to the 21st century version of this life saving device.
Despite a general consensus that Cayley was the true inventor of the first seat belt, it was a man named Edward J. Claghorn who first patented a seat belt design in 1885. The first appearance of seat belts in any form was actually in aircraft, with the famous pilot Adolphe Pegoud using a seat belt when becoming one of the first men to fly upside-down. They did not become widely used in aircraft until the early 1930s. It was not until the 1920s that American physicians encouraged their use in automobiles with some even fitting the belts into their own cars to emphasise their opinions.
One of the most prominent and respected of these physicians, C.J. Strickland, established the 'Automobile Safety League of America'. The American public did not however show a great deal of interest in the organisation or the idea of having to where a seat belt whilst driving. Engineer Hugh De Haven later created the 'inertia wheel' and developed the concept/theory of 'wearing' the car or 'packaging' the passengers into the car. Safety belts were later tested by John P. Stapp who used himself as a human guinea pig in a rocket propelled sled! with his seat belt on of course! His studies concluded that most people injured or killed in plane crashes did not sustain damage from the plane itself hitting the ground, but instead injuring themselves when the by hitting the inside of the plane; a further case for seat belts. Seat belts in aircraft were not fully adopted until World War II, when Seth H. Stoner worked with a team of military engineers to create a belt that would reduce deaths when taking off and landing; it was not until the late 1950s that seat belts began to appear in mass produced cars as a standard fixture.
Edward J. Hock invented and developed the safety belt first used by the Ford Motor Company during the 1950s as a safety installation, he had developed the belt out of old parachute strapping in his spare time whilst serving in the military as a flight instructor. The US Naval Authorities rewarded Hock with $20.50 for his efforts, a letter of recognition, a picture with military 'top brass' and a brief newspaper article. He never received another cent for his creation, and yet it could have made him one of the World's richest men. In 1951, the first three point seat belt was patented by the Americans Roger Griswold and Hugh De Haven. Saab became the first major car manufacture to introduce seat belts to its entire whole range of cars as standard, and it was after the launch of the Saab GT 750 in 1958 - complete with belts - that the practice became common throughout the industry. Primarily this was to compete with Saab, and still not as a result of the consumer considering a belt to be essential.
In 1959 Swedish inventor Nils Bohlin completed a particular kind of three point seat belt for Volvo which was subsequently granted a US patent, Volvo introduced the belt as standard in all of new cars by the end of the same year, and most modern seat belts are now variations of this design; you could say that Nils Bohlin is the creator of the seat belt that you will/should be wearing when you next take your car out for a spin. Lap belts were offered for the first time in 1955 by Ford, of the kind still frequently seen in the middle back passenger seats of modern cars. By 1964 most US automobiles were sold with front seat belts and by 1968 rear seat belts also became a standard feature of cars. In 1970 the state of Victoria in Australia became the first place in the world to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory at all times whilst driving or a passenger within a car, a precedent which was soon followed by most of the developed world. There are now no cars in production in any country which do not have all seat belts in all front and rear seats as standard.