Whelen Emergency Lights

Police Cycle Gets First Rotating Lamp

Joliet Police yesterday accepted as a gift the first rotating emergency light to ever work successfully on a motorcycle.

It is believed to be the only such device in the country.  “There has long been a need for such a warning light,” Police Chief Joseph Trizna said in accepting the gift.  “We naturally are quite proud that the All American city of Joliet has been honored with this important first in the field safety.”

The first rotating emergency light mounted on a bracket to fit on a motorcycle’s front fender was presented to the police department by its inventor, George W. Whelen of the Whelen Engineering Company.  He has been testing the safety device for a year. 

     For the past three months the light as been mounted on the cycle of Captain Orville Belfield and has received his approval as having met every test.

The story of the rotating safety light, similar to the ones mounted on top of squad cars, began in August of 1954.  That was when Officer Louis Barney met his death on a motorcycle.  It was an overcast day when he came upon a traffic jam.  He moved out into the left lane of traffic to investigate.  Oncoming cars were unable to see him until it was too late. 

     Shortly thereafter Whelen and then Capt. Trizna and Belfield discussed the need for an emergency light for motorcycles.  Trizna, who formerly patrolled the streets on a motorcycle, was aware of the problems.  The pursuit lamps on a motorcycle throw a direct beam and give the rider no illumination of side areas.

      A rotating reflector type light was needed, such as in use on squad cars.  The problem was that a motorcycle creates a special problem for such a light.  The vibration of the cycle makes it difficult to find a lamp which will function under those punishing conditions.

     Whelen brought to the project experience in manufacturing lights for aviation.  After a long period of experimentation, he had the problem licked. 

     Chief Trizna said he hopes eventually to have all ten motorcycles in the department equipped with the rotating lights.  He added that he expected other police departments throughout the United States also to equip their wheels with the device.

George W. Whelen, Chief Trainza of Joliet, IL Police and Capt. Belfield

This article originally appeared in the November, 1956 edition of the Joliet, Illinois Spectator.

Reproduced with the permission of the Whelen Engineering Company.