When it starts to rain, you automatically turn on your wipers, without giving it a second thought. The earliest drivers, though, couldn’t do that, because wipers didn’t yet exist. It wasn’t until November 10, 1903 that a woman from Birmingham, Alabama named Mary Anderson received a patent for a “window cleaning device for electric cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice or sleet from the windows.”
In other words, windshield wipers.
Windshield wiper history
History Channel provides more of the backstory of this amazing invention. Anderson was riding a streetcar in New York City, but the driver couldn’t see through his windshield. The windshield was split so that the driver could open it and manually clean off rain, sleet or snow, but passengers shivered and/or got wet in the process.
Anderson knew there had to be a better way and so she devised a set of wooden and rubber wipers operated by a lever located by the steering wheel. This activated a spring loaded arm that cleared off the windshield. These wipers could be removed and used only when necessary.
People laughed at the notion, figuring that these wipers would distract drivers and cause accidents. Anderson tried selling her creation to a manufacturing company who refused, seeing no practical value in a device that cleaned car windows. By 1913, these wipers were found on most cars, but the inventor didn’t profit.
More windshield wiper history: in 1917, Charlotte Bridgewood invented another version of wipers, but she didn’t make any money from her invention, either.
Modern day windshield wipers
It’s hard to imagine not having wipers on your car, and today’s drivers realize that they help to prevent accidents rather than causing them. When old wipers leave behind streaks or otherwise don’t clear off a windshield, they know it’s time to replace them.