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Mary Anderson (1866-1953) : visionary inventor of the windshield wiper!

“The windshield wiper! What a great invention!” These are words that Mary Anderson will never hear!

When Mary Anderson conceived the first windshield wiper with oscillating arm in 1903 and proposed her patent to the industrialists, the reaction was icy: “We do not consider that it is of such a commercial value that would justify this acquisition”, because Marie is a visionary! Her invention arrived much too early for industrialists to understand the interest they could draw from it! Imagine, her invention entitled “Window cleaning device for cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice or sleet from the window” came before Henry Ford had even made his first car!

Credit : ICEA

But let’s go back to the invention process, which is worthy of an innovation manual.

It all starts with an observation of a problem: while visiting New York City during the winter of 1903, on a streetcar on a freezing sleet day, she observed that the machinist was forced to stop the vehicle to clean the windshield and see where he was driving.  After the trip, back in Alabama, in response to the problem she witnessed, Mary developed a practical solution: a design for a windshield blade that would connect to the inside of the car, allowing the driver to operate the windshield wiper from within the vehicle. His device consisted of a lever inside the vehicle that controlled a rubber blade on the outside of the windshield. The lever was operated to cause the spring arm to move across the windshield. A counterweight was used to ensure contact between the glass and the window.

Credit : Cockpit – accros of cars

She had a prototype made by a local company, then filed a patent application on June 18, 1903. She obtained a 17-year patent on this model. Similar devices had already been proposed but only Mary’s was effective, only the marketing stage was a failure. It was not until 1922 that Cadillac adopted it as standard equipment. The patent was then in the public domain.

Credit : Toyota Vannes

The device was improved in the meantime in 1917 by Dr. Ormand (Hawaiian). Indeed, the windshield wiper designed by Mary Anderson was manual: the driver had to use one hand to move a lever that operated the wipers, and the other hand to steer the car, operate the gear change and the brakes. In 1917, Dr. Ormand invented the automatic, electrically operated windshield wiper.

Used throughout the world, this invention is still essential for the safety of motorists, pedestrians, and other road users. Mary Anderson, a visionary inventor, saved the lives of several generations of motorists with her invention. Her name is on the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Written by Emmanuelle P.


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