About Mary Anderson, the Windshield Wiper Inventor
11 Aug 2017
The first windshield wiper was invented by a real estate developer named Mary Anderson. On a wet, freezing day in the early 1900s, Anderson was riding on a streetcar in New York when she saw how the driver could barely see the street through his front windshield.
Windshield Wiper Inventor
Drivers’ visibility was that poor because motor vehicle technology at that time was limited to solve this issue. What car makers did back then was simply divide the front windshield of vehicles into two sections that could be swung open. This allowed the driver to open their windshield to see the road ahead of them in bad weather. The problem was that sleet and rain would immediately blow into the streetcar. Essentially, this was only a tiny solution.
On that drive, Mary Anderson sketched a wiper contraption. One only needed a mechanical arm the driver operated to push the rain and snow off a windshield. With that understanding, Anderson went to work on resolving the problem. Her first prototype was one set of rubber and wood spring-loaded wiper blades attached to a lever close to the steering wheel. When the driver pulled the lever, they dragged the spring-loaded arm across their window and back again, pushing away snow, sleet or other debris. Anderson was convinced that it would definitely work.
Realizing that she had a valuable idea in mind, Anderson got serious. In 1903 she received U.S. Patent No. 743,801 for a “window cleaning device for vehicles to remove snow, ice or sleet from the window.” This was the first filed patent to addressed this issue.
Being an investor, Anderson then tried to license this. She has a problem, though: she was thinking too far ahead! Trolleys and motorcars were low-speed vehicles during her life and opening a front window, or sticking one’s head out a side window, was an OK way to see the road ahead in bad weather. Because this was how it was done, Ms. Anderson had people who questioned her device. It was not necessary, many said. She didn’t listen to those skeptics, and instead approached many manufacturing firms with licensing deals, but those firms refused. They said that the contraption had no real value, and so nobody wanted to take the time to license it.
Unfortunately, after years of trying to get her device going, Anderson ran out of time because her patent did. Although mechanical windshield wipers were standard equipment for cars by around 1916, Anderson never got money for an invention that nowadays is on almost every motor vehicle that is manufactured.
And for a few extra facts, it was in 1917 that Charlotte Bridgewood patented the “Electric Storm Windshield Cleaner,” an automatic wiper unit that used rollers instead of blades. However, like Anderson’s idea, hers never brought in money.
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