Imagine driving along as heavy water droplets begin to hit the windshield. Before the outside world becomes blurry instead of clear and visible, your hand reaches for the small lever right next to the steering wheel to activate the windshield wipers.
Today, it’s hard to imagine a car that doesn’t have this safety device. But in the days of the inventor of this necessary device, Mary Anderson, windshield wipers were unheard of, until one day.
In the winter of 1902, Anderson was riding a streetcar (tramcar) in New York City. It was snowing heavily, and as a result, the visibility was poor.
To clear the sight lines, the driver of the streetcar had two options. First, to shove one of the window panels aside, thus exposing himself and the front passengers to the cold weather. Second, to continuously stop the streetcar, get out, and wipe off the windshield. Neither of the two alternatives was very driver and passenger friendly.
During that exact ride was where Anderson had a eureka moment. She thought of a device that can be made that could wipe off the windshield to make tram rides more enjoyable and safer. So, the idea of a windshield wiper was born.
In 1903, Anderson patented her invention and in 1905 tried to sell it to a noted Canadian firm of Dinning and Eckenstein. Success did not come her way though.
The manufacturer’s response stated that they didn’t find the device to “be of such commercial value as would warrant their undertaking its sale.”
In 1922 however, Cadillac became the first car manufacturer to take up the device and make it a standard feature in all their automobiles.
By that time, the inventor’s patent had expired. Mary Anderson didn’t get the laurels, nor did she receive any monetary compensation for her “window cleaning device.” But she lived long enough to see her invention become universal. She died on the 27th of June 1953.
Finally, in 2011, her name was inducted in the America’s National Inventors Hall of Fame.