Women’s Day Series: Mary Anderson – Patentee of clear vision.

“As the world evolves, so too does the growing role of women who are proving their infinite capabilities in today’s complex workplace, and exhibiting a new usefulness now and for the future.”- Mary Anderson

You may have never heard of the inventor featured in this post, but you have most definitely used her invention a hundred times, especially during rain or snow.  Mary Anderson (1866-1953), was a native of Birmingham, Alabama. She was an American real estate developer, rancher, viticulturist and an inventor. The credit of inventing one of the most simple and crucial piece of technology used in all modern day vehicles is attributed to Mary Anderson.

During a visit to New York on a snowy morning in 1902, she observed that the trolley driver was having difficulty seeing through the sleet and snow. Every few minutes, the driver would have to reach through his window to wipe the snow and sleet off the windshield. During the ride, Mary started thinking about how the driver could stay warm inside the vehicle without worrying about the snow piling up on his windshield.

This was the day that the first windshield wipers were conceptualized. Mary designed a hand-operated device that would keep the windshield clear of snow, sleet and rain. She applied for a patent on 18th June 1903 and was granted one on November 10th, 1903 for an invention titled “Window-cleaning device” for a period of 17 years.

The patent for the windsheild wiper

The device as described by the specification of the document consisted of a lever inside the vehicle that would attach to the outside of the car, with a long spring-loaded arm with a rubber blade. She therefore claimed:

  1. The combination with a spindle, of an arm removably secured thereto, an adjustable Weight for counterbalancing one end thereof, and cleaners yieldingly pivoted to the main portion of the arm.
  2. The combination with a spindle, and a handle journaled to one end thereof, of an arm secured to the opposite end of the spindle, a cleaner pivotally mounted on the arm, and springs secured to the arm and pressing yieldingly against the cleaner whereby to hold it yieldingly against the object to be cleaned.
  3. The combination with a spindle having a head thereon, of an arm removably secured to the head, and a yieldingly – supported cleaner carried by the arm.
  4. The combination with a suitable support, and an arm connected therewith, of a plurality of cleaners yieldingly supported on the arm as an axis in alinement with each other and means whereby to swing» the arm to cause the cleaners to sweep in an arc from the single support, across the surface to be cleaned.

When Mary tried to sell her device, every single company rejected her invention thinking it would distract drivers and therefore would serve no significant purpose. A Canadian firm even said “we do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale.”

After the patent expired in 1920 and the automobile manufacturing business grew exponentially, windshield wipers using Mary’s basic design became standard equipment. In 1922, Cadillac became the first car manufacturer to adopt them as standard equipment. By the 40s and 50s, when cars were much more common and affordable, windshield wipers were standard on most vehicles, and they’re now usually a legal requirement.

The first automatic windshield wipers were also in fact invented by a woman named Charlotte Bridgewood, who filed a patent for her invention in 1917.

To conclude this post, I would like to quote one of the most brilliant scientists the world has ever known. Happy Women’s Day!

“We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.” – Marie Curie

Authored by Gaurav Mishra.

References: 1 , 2 , 3 , 4

Image source / Attribution here, this image is in Public domain.


  • March 3, 2016 Posted

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