Jesse R. Hollins

Come to the museum to see a display of one of Hollin's inventions, the turn signals used on automobiles.

Come to the museum to see a display of one of Hollin’s inventions, the turn signals used on automobiles.

October 21, 1905 – October 21, 1979
Jesse Hollins,

  • Inventor
  • Internationally Recognized Major Contributor to Automotive Safety
  • Pioneer in Electrically Operated Directional Signals
  • Inventor of the Universally Adopted Traffic Hazard Warning Device
  • Developer of the Thermally Activated Flasher
  • Granted more than 100 Patents
  • Honored with membership by
  • The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
  • and The Society of Automotive Engineers
  • Modest, Honest, Self-Effacing
  • – – An Awfully Nice Guy

At 11 he wired our house on Gay Street with a workable telegraph system.
At 12 he was caught driving. The Model T’s “Magneto” was irresistible. It needed tinkering and road testing. The punishment: “grounding.”
At 15 he had that Model T purring like a kitten….The Magneto had been rebuilt a dozen times.

image of Signal Stat Safety CampaignAll were precursors of Jesse’s love affair with new ideas leading to over 100 patents.
He was gifted with innate understanding of electrical circuitry.
His wizardry extended into the mechanical.He felt he could improve just about everything he saw…and maybe he could; for it was as if he had been there before.

But beyond all this – –
His faith, reinforced by his tenacity, had the blessing of a family dedicated to his vision.
Together they were to surmount life’s adversities:

  • The forced move to New York in the early 20s brought on as an aftermath of World War I.
    (The Model T made the Wilmington hill – – but only in reverse).
  • The difficulties in adjusting to a dramatically different lifestyle in a strange environment under an unfavorable economy.
  • The limited time of the ever so important pursuit of schooling and dreams….
  • And when Jesse had perfected his electromagnetic turn signal system (the first of its kind) it was met by hostility in Detroit; considered illegal by many states due to antiquated laws restricting the signally of a turn to the hand/arm or semaphore (stick) method; and virtually killed by the disaster of the great depression.

So, in disregard of well meant advice, the family borrowed wherever it could, managed on a bare minimum, and created a Signal-Stat Corporation to commercialize what was termed
a very questionable idea at a most inopportune time.

Sacrifice, hard work coupled with integrity, and Jesse’s constantly enhancing improvements in concept, design and product, bit by bit, made for acceptance. Outward success was measured by Signal-Stat’s ever growing product line, its sizable plants. Each of its several hundred employees was known by name and considered part of the family.

Jesse loved to share his pleasure of accomplishment. Though it might have been more profitable otherwise, the family applauded the granting of a royalty free license to vehicle manufacturers to encourage the acceptance and use of the “Traffic Hazard Warning Device”…one of Jesse’s more brilliant inventions adopted and heralded the world over as one of automotive’s great life-saving devices.

Not bad for a quiet, introspective boy from Berlin, Maryland who, though lacking in college education, was recognized for his engineering and business achievements. Yet he always maintained a modest profile with a deep appreciation for the well being of his fellow human beings.

Could this, in whole or part, in some way or other be related to the influences of his childhood?

Perhaps the strong family unity resulted from gardening together – – planting seeds and watching them take root and grow as they were nurtured by the cultivated, rich Berlin soil. Or was it from contributing to the family needs by jointly picking potato bugs or capping strawberries alongside the freight yard.

Perhaps his integrity, his faith in people and in the future so evident in Calvin B. Taylor’s advice and outright help in our move to New York.

Perhaps the wisdom of that wonderful teacher, Minnie Jones, who inspired her combined 1st through 3rd grade class to dream good dreams, to aim high, to study, and to work hard to achieve for oneself as well as others.

One thing is certain. Whatever the additional ingredients during those formative childhood years, Jesse R. Hollins left a heritage in which Berlin can share with justifiable pride.

This brief sketch based on fond recollections and thoughts by his younger brother,
Lewis S. Hollins
April, 1990