How many times has a person looked at something that is used every day and asked themselves how did people live without this? One such product would be the windshield wiper as this was not available in the marketplace until over a century ago.
In fact, it took a woman from Alabama named Mary Anderson to create something that on November 10th, 1903 would have the patent office grant Patent No. 743,801 for her device that cleans windows for vehicles that includes electric cars that removes sleet, snow or ice from the window. Even though she was given her patent, her attempt for a Canadian manufacturing firm to buy it failed as the company decided the device lacked any practical value and therefore not worth any money. Sadly, she never received any profit from her creation even though passenger cars made mechanical windshield wipers standard equipment around 1913.
When looking back at what her inspiration was in creating such a product, it has been reported that around the turn of the century in New York City, the “Ah-Ha” moment happened during the winter on a wet freezing day. Mary was traveling in a street car when she observed a driver having extreme difficulty looking through his sleet-covered front windshield. Even though the vehicle’s front window was created for visibility hampered by bad weather, the driver could open it since it was divided into parts that enabled him to move out of his line of sight rain or snow; yet, this multi-shield system did not work very well. The system left the driver’s face vulnerable, which included those who sat in the trolley’s front row, to the bad weather as well as it did not help his vision much to see where he was trying to go.
Mary immediately began to draw her device for wiping while riding on the trolley. Her prototype that worked came after several ideas proved unworkable. Her invention was a couple of wiper arms constructed of rubber and wood that would be connected to a lever on the driver’s side next to the steering wheel. Once the driver activated it, the spring-loaded arm went back and forth across the window so that debris, raindrops and snowflakes would be cleared away. When the winter season ended, the wipers could be taken off and put somewhere until the next winter season; this ability was most likely designed to favor those drivers that were located in areas that during the summer did not see rain.
Unfortunately, critics did not favor her invention implying her device’s movement would cause accidents due to distracted drivers. She could not find anyone to support her creation which led to her patent expiring. Charlotte Bridgewood would patent the “Electric Storm Windshield Cleaner” in 1917 which was an automatic wiper system that instead of blades used rollers. Her daughter, known as the actress Florence Lawrence, devised the turn signal. Charlotte ended up like Mary as her invention did not make her any money.