It wasn’t a car manufacturer that invented the first windshield wiper. We are serious in saying that the first windshield wiper was invented by a real estate developer by the name of Mary Anderson.
As the story goes, on a freezing, wet day in the early 1900s, Anderson was riding on a streetcar in New York when she became aware of how the driver could barely see the street through his front windshield.
Drivers’ visibility was so poor because the motor vehicle technology at that time was limited to solve this problem. What manufacturers did back then was simply divide the front windshield of vehicles into 2 sections that could be swung open. That allowed the driver to open the windshield to see the road ahead of them when the weather was bad. The problem was that rain and sleet would immediately blow into the streetcar. Essentially, this was only a small solution.
On that fateful drive, Mary Anderson sketched this wiper contraption.One only needed a mechanical arm operated by the driver that could push the rain and snow off a windshield. With that basic understanding, she went to work on resolving the problem. Her first prototype was a set of rubber and wood spring-loaded wiper blades that were attached to a lever close to the driver’s steering wheel. When the driver pulled that lever, he or she dragged the spring-loaded arm across the window and back again, pushing away sleet, snow or other debris. Anderson was convinced that it would work.
Realizing that she had a potentially valuable idea in mind, Anderson got serious. In late 1903 she was awarded U.S. Patent No. 743,801 for her “window cleaning device for vehicles to remove snow, ice or sleet from the window.” Hillview Motors of Greensburg, PA says this was the first filed patent that addressed this problem.
Being an investor, Anderson then attempted to license this. The problem was that she was thinking too far ahead. Trolleys and motorcars were low speed vehicles during her time and opening up a front window, or sticking one’s head out a side window, was a fine way to see the road ahead when the weather was bad. Because this was how it was done, Ms. Anderson had skeptics. It was not entirely necessary, many said. She didn’t care, and approached several manufacturing firms with licensing deals, but those companies refused: The contraption had no practical value, they said, and so nobody wanted to take their time to license it.
Unfortunately, after years of trying to get this going, Anderson ran out of time because her patent expired. Though mechanical windshield wipers were standard equipment in cars by around 1916, Anderson never received money for an invention that is on virtually every motor vehicle that is manufactured today.
And as a few bonus facts, it was in 1917 that Charlotte Bridgewood patented the “Electric Storm Windshield Cleaner,” a wiper system that was automatic that used rollers and not blades. However, like Anderson’s idea, hers never brought in any money.
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