The Invention of Windshield Wipers


Mary Anderson is credited for inventing windshield wipers for automobiles. In 1903, she was granted the patent for the device that removes “snow, rain, and sleet” from a vehicle. It is said that Anderson was inspired while she was traveling in a streetcar during the winter. The driver experienced difficulties seeing through his windshield under the snowy conditions. The driver had two options: Leave the glass down to clear his vision while exposing himself and his passengers to the cold and wet conditions. Or, stopping the vehicle and manually cleaning the windshield that would lead to delays and longer driving periods.

After many drawings and experiments, Anderson created rubber wipers that moved forward and back across the windshield via a lever and springs. The lever was located by the driver for easier accessibility.

Her invention was met with backlash and strong negativity. Critics claimed that the driver would be distracted while using the wipers and not be able to focus on the road. One company stated that they
“[did] not [even] consider it to be of such commercial value”.

Anderson reaped zero benefits from her invention before her patent expired. By the early 1920’s the automobile industry grew exponentially and windshield wipers became standard equipment for brands such as Cadillac. Eventually, Mary Anderson got the credit she deserved as she was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2011.

windshield wipers

Mary Anderson’s Original Patent Drawing  (Above)


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