A glowing history of high visibility clothing

Walk round any industrial site and you’ll see workers wearing high visibility clothing. They’re easy to spot. But where did it all start?

Back in the early 1930s, Bob Switzer, an Ohio teenager, was in a coma after suffering a serious head injury. It was months before he regained consciousness and doctors advised him to convalesce in a darkened room.

Frustrated that his dream of becoming a medical doctor had been dashed, he passed the time by experimenting with fluorescent minerals and started to wave them around in the dim light.

Then, when he’d recovered, he began to mix them with varnish in his bathtub, subsequently inventing the world’s first fluorescent paint.

Because of its novel ability to ‘glow’ in daylight, Bob called his new paint ‘Day-Glo’. Bob, along with his brother, Joe, were amateur magicians. They incorporated the substance into their stage tricks and tried to make money from selling ‘Day-Glo’ to fellow conjurors.

News spread fast and it wasn’t long before the US army began to take an interest. Troops were being shot, accidentally, by friendly gunfire from allied planes in combat. The army saw a potential solution. Bob was duly commissioned to mix his pigments with cloth to create a fluorescent fabric.

The experiments began using the only suitable fabric to hand – his wife’s wedding dress. It was a glowing success. Bob Switzer’s wife’s wedding dress gained fame for becoming the world’s first item of high visibility clothing.

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