April Showers Bring Innovation - the History of Windshield Wipers

For many people, the arrival of spring also means the arrival of rain. This is something we are used to and it's hard to imagine normal levels of rain keeping us from our daily errands. But until the invention of windshield wipers, drivers caught in a spring shower would be a little stuck.


The evolution of Anderson's inventionThe evolution of Anderson's invention

In 1903, an inventor named J.H. Apjohn created a method of clearing water from windows using two brushes that moved up and down. However, it was a woman named Mary Anderson who invented history’s first windshield wiper with a swinging arm. At the time of her invention, Anderson was a young lady living in Birmingham, Alabama, caring for an elderly aunt. Upon her aunt's passing, Anderson discovered that several trunks in the house contained large amount of gold and jewelry and it was with some of this fortune that Anderson financed a trip to New York City in 1902. Sitting in a trolley car during a bout of sleet, Anderson watched the driver run out of the car every few minutes to wipe the windows clear. The driver’s ordeal inspired Anderson and, after returning to Birmingham, she invented and patented a windshield wiper that could be controlled, by hand, from inside the car. A spindle was run through a hole in the frame of the windshield. The rubber wiper blade was on the outside end and the mechanism’s handle was on the inside. The blade was held to the glass by a counterweight and spring.

As is often the case in the history of invention, Anderson’s creation was initially rejected. Her windshield wiper was designed for streetcars - which makes sense considering its inspiration - and cars were a different story. Many of them at the time did not have windshields at all and drivers simply left their covered up at home during the rain. However, by 1916, Anderson’s invention was on every car made in America.

Mary Anderson’s invention has seen a number of evolutions, from the first intermittent wipers in 1969, to headlight wipers a year later, to rain-sensing windshield wipers in this century. What’s next in the history of the windshield wiper? Perhaps it’s no wipers at all!

Wikipedia - Windshield wiper
Wikipedia - Mary Anderson (inventor)
American Heritage

Image: Wikipedia

Nov 24, 2008
by Anonymous