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Windshield Wipers

Posted Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 10:20 AM

"Mary Anderson invented the windshield wiper in 1903, years before Henry Ford industrialized automobile production."

Engineering Careers
Mechanical |

Windshield Wipers

PostedThursday, September 17, 2015 at 10:26 AM

Grace Lam
Grace Lam
Windshield Wipers

Mary Anderson invented the windshield wiper in 1903, years before Henry Ford industrialized automobile production.

Author: Grace Lam

On a frosty day in 1902, a trolley ride in New York City inspired Mary Anderson to design the windshield wiper. The heavy snow and sleet not only made it difficult for Anderson to enjoy the scenery, but also impaired the visibility through the windshield, forcing the driver to open the split windshield and stick his head out the window while enduring the frigid air and wet snow slapping his face. Feeling sympathy for the driver, Anderson started brainstorming ways to keep the windshield clear in harsh weather conditions. Back home in Birmingham, Alabama, she worked tirelessly on sketches of her windshield wiper solution. After conducting many experiments, Anderson invented a hand-operated lever inside the vehicle that triggered a spring-loaded rubber-bladed arm outside the windshield, with a counterweight to ensure steady contact between the wiper and windshield.

Even though Anderson was granted a 17-year patent in 1903, no company was interested in commercializing her invention because of a perceived lack of demand. Anderson was clearly ahead of her time, as cars were not popular in her day, and the ones that did exist didn’t even go fast enough to need windshields. Ironically, windshield wipers only became widely adopted after her patent expired, when automobiles were brought into the mainstream. Today, windshield wipers are standard on most vehicles. Tourists can now enjoy the sights even in rainy and snowy weather, but more importantly, lives are saved every day due to improved visibility made possible by Anderson’s invention.


Filed Under Machines Mechanical Transportation & Travel Fun Fact