Windshield wipers were invented by a woman named Mary Anderson of Birmingham, Alabama in 1903. When Mary visited New York City in 1902, she took a ride in a trolley car on a very frosty day. The trolley had two separate window panes, and as she watched the motorman, she noticed something interesting; the driver had both panes open because he couldn’t keep the windows clear enough of the downpouring sleet for him to see.
This gave Mary an idea. Back home in Alabama, she immediately hired a designer to help her devise a hand-operated device that could help to keep a windshield clear of ice and snow. She then hired a local company to produce a working model, and in 1903 she applied for and was granted a 17-year patent for her windshield wiper.
Mary’s device consisted of a rubber blade outside on the windshield that was controlled by a lever on the inside of the vehicle. When the driver operated the lever, it caused a spring-loaded arm to move back and forth over the windshield. A counterweight was added to ensure that the wiper would maintain contact with the window.
While there had been some similar devices made earlier, Mary’s was the first one that actually worked effectively.
Mary tried to sell the rights to her windshield trico wipers through a prominent Canadian firm, but she was rejected. They told her that they didn’t consider her invention to be of enough commercial value to warrant them taking on the task. Maybe that wasn’t such a good decision!
Mary’s patent expired in 1920. At just about the same time, the Automobile industry began growing exponentially, and windshield wipers that used her basic design soon began showing up on cars. The manufacturer of Cadillac became the first to adopt the wipers as standard equipment in 1922.
Mary Anderson was born in 1866 in Green County, Alabama.