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In 1903, it rarely occurred to anyone that rain on a moving vehicle's windshield
was a problem that could be eliminated. It was something drivers simply accepted
and dealt with in their own ways, usually by stopping every once in a while
and manually scraping off the windshield moisture that was causing them to see
poorly while they were driving. A young woman named Mary Anderson changed all
that with her invention of the windshield wiper, an idea that leapt into her
mind as she traveled from Alabama to
New York City.
Little is known about Mary Anderson, except for the incident that inspired
her infamous creation. When Anderson got to New York, the weather was rather
sloppy, and she saw drivers constantly stopping their cars and getting out to
remove snow and ice from the windshields. Anderson decided this method could
be improved. She began to draw up plans for a device that could be activated
from inside the car to clear the windshield.
The following year, in 1904, Anderson applied for a patent for a swinging
arm with a rubber blade. The device consisted of a lever that could be operated
from inside a car by the driver. The lever caused a spring-loaded arm with a
rubber blade to swing across the windshield and then back again to their original
position, thus removing droplets of rain or flakes of snow from the windshield's
surface. The patent for the device was issued in 1905. Similar devices had been
made earlier than Anderson's was, but hers was the first that actually worked.
Additionally, the device could be easily removed if so desired, after winter
At the time she applied for her patent, cars were not very popular.
Henry Ford's Model A automobile had not even been manufactured yet, and
he would not create his famed Model T vehicle until 1908. Anderson, meanwhile,
was teased and laughed at by many people because of her idea for the windshield
wipers. Many felt the movement of the windshield wipers would distract the drivers.
However, that laughter did not last long. By 1913, thousands of Americans were
driving their own cars, and mechanical windshield wipers were standard equipment.
Now, a century later, it's almost impossible to imagine what drivers would ever
do without windshield wipers.