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history of wiper blades
wiper invention

Just like the apple that fell on Newton’s head an apple was the catalyst for the invention of the wiper blade – and unlike Newton’s, it’s an absolutely true story.

The year is 1902, the place: the Big Apple.  Mary Anderson is visiting New York from Alabama but finds that the weather makes seeing sites from a street car nearly impossible.  The combination of Mary’s inquisitive nature and the weather would lead to the invention of the windshield wiper blade – even if she didn’t end up earning anything from it.

Old Cars Had No Need For Wiper Blades

Does your current vehicle have air conditioning?  Don’t laugh!  For many people a/c wasn’t a standard option at some point in their lifetime.  But it is now.  Just like radios, automatic windows and door locks, and an automatic transmission.  Cars, like everything else, have developed over time.  And when Mary was struck with inspiration in the early 1900’s, most cars didn’t even have windshields! 

Mary’s Invention

If necessity is the mother of invention there is no greater example than Mary Anderson and wiper blades.  During the winter of 1902 Mary was riding a street car through New York City.  She noticed several things about the rain and sleet:

●     Rain made it hard to see: passengers couldn’t see out of the windows.  More importantly, though, the driver had trouble seeing.

●     Sleet killed efficiency and comfort: drivers were stopped to wipe their windshields so that they could see.  The driver would open the window to wipe, or stick his head out to see, giving Mary frequent blasts of cold air.

Mary, who was a successful businesswoman, immediately started thinking.

Daydreams and Doodles

Mary began thinking, and sketching, ideas for how to clean rain, sleet, and anything else from the windshield without having to brave the cold, wet weather.  Her vision, in fact, isn’t very different from what we have today: she pictured a lever on the inside of the car that would move a rubber blade along the windshield, clearing it.  Today’s model isn’t much changed – other than the automation.  After planning and sketching, Mary applied for and received a patent for her window-cleaning device in November of 1903.


In Part II we’ll look at the history of the wiper blade and how it evolved from Mary’s initial idea.

history of wiper blades
wiper invention

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