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Mary Anderson, Windshield Wiper Inventor

March 9, 2014

The motor vehicle windshield wiper was invented by a clever woman from Alabama, Mary Anderson.

Anderson was also a real estate developer and owner-operator of a cattle ranch and vineyard. However, she is best known for her innovation that now serves to keep clear the windshields of millions of cars, trucks, and buses each year.

Born in Alabama just after the end of the Civil War, Anderson had by the 1890s moved to Fresno, Calif., where she ran the ranch and vineyard. She was visiting friends in New York City in 1903 when she observed a streetcar car driver leaving his front window open despite the cold because the falling sleet was too much obscuring his view to drive.

When she returned home, Anderson hired a designer to produce a hand-operated device to sweep a car's windshield periodically. She received her patent not long after that. The driver had to initiate the wipe, but the wiper did the rest, making use of a spring-loaded arm to sweep both directions on the glass. A counterweight kept the wiper from leaving the surface of the glass.

Anderson tried to get car companies to buy her invention, initially without success. But, by the 1920s, her windshield wiper was standard equipment.


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