1. Florence Lawrence
Born in 1886, this old-fashioned auto enthusiast and actress is often referred to as “The First Movie Star” and was the first film actor to be named publicly. What most people don’t know is that Florence also invented two key safety components that everyone around the world recognizes and utilizes to this day. After witnessing one too many traffic accidents, and becoming increasingly frustrated by not knowing which direction the driver in front of her was going to take, a history report by Columbia University says Florence came up with something she called “auto-signaling arms,” which used a couple of flags on both sides of the car that could be remotely raised and lowered with the push of a button. While no one uses flags anymore, this invention has become a mandatory safety feature for auto makers the world over, and our modern interpretation of Florence’s invention is this little doohickey we like to call the “turn signal.”
The other interesting invention Florence brought into fruition was this sign that flipped up in the back of the car as a warning to cars behind her that she was slowing down. This sign had the word “stop” painted on it and was triggered by the pressing of the brake pedal. In today’s world, we utilize an electronic version of this invention called “brake lights.” For some reason, she never patented either of these crucial inventions, and after being nearly burned to death in a studio fire in 1915, Florence withdrew from the public eye. It later became known that the actress and inventor also suffered from a painful bone-marrow disease, and in 1938 Florence Lawrence committed suicide by poisoning herself with a combination of cough syrup and ant paste at her home in West Hollywood.