Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for Windshield Wiper: Inventions by Women A-Z


Streetcar New York City 1903
Ever wonder what people did before the invention of the windshield wiper? Mary Anderson of Alabama was visiting New York City, riding on a trolley, when it began to rain. As it poured, sleet began
piling up on the windshield and the driver could barely see. All he could do was stick his head out the side and reach with his arms to wipe the windshield. Other streetcar drivers were struggling likewise.


Mary Anderson (1866-1953)
Back in Birmingham, Mary thought long and hard about the problem, determined to find a solution. One thing she knew for sure: visibility in rain, sleet, and snow was a
safety concern for all drivers of vehicles. In 1903 she patented a "Window Cleaning Device" for electric cars and other vehicles. The device consisted of two spring-loaded rubber blades that attached to the top of the windshield and swung independently across the pane as needed. The blades were operated individually by the driver from inside the vehicle with a handle. In dry weather the blades could easily be removed. The device seemed novel and greatly needed, but was rejected. The main complaint was the device would be too much of a distraction for the driver, but it appears she only made one serious marketing attempt, with a Canadian firm, who said in their rejection, "we do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale."  

Older photo of Mary with original patent
 Mary did receive some royalties but not much. By 1916 her Window Cleaning Device was well on its way to becoming the standard on all cars. The following year another woman inventor (Charlotte Bridgewood) patented an automatic windshield wiper called the Storm Windshield Cleaner (Charlotte never received much either). 

For some reason, Mary let her patent expire in 1920, which would have been the start of the big auto industry boom, with the mass production of the Model T Ford. It does seem Mary's invention could have made her a fortune, but priorities obviously took her down a different path, although I can only speculate. 

1915 Ford Model T---with (Mary's) Windshield Wipers


As an unmarried woman income was apparently not a problem. She lived comfortably, having operated a cattle ranch and vineyard in California in her early years. After a time she returned home to manage the family's real estate and care for an ailing aunt, who subsequently died and left the family a fortune. 

Clearly, Mary was the inventor of the windshield wiper, and from the older picture above, she appears proud of her accomplishment. When Mary died at age 87, the New York Times and Time magazine made a point of printing her obituary and giving her special mention as its inventor.

Others have honored her as well . . . 

"Windshield Wiper Inventor, Miss Mary Anderson, Dies." Birmingham Post-Herald, June 29, 1953. 

"Southern Belle Invented Wiper for Windshield." Birmingham News, February 20, 1977.
 






Sources:
http://ae-plus.com/milestones/mary-anderson-invented-a-window-cleaning-device-in-1903
http://www.bhamwiki.com/w/Mary_Anderson_%28inventor%29
http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2553
http://www.uspto.gov/custom-page/inventors-eye-tracking-innovation-windshield-wipers
http://www.amazingwomeninhistory.com/mary-anderson-inventor/
http://www.women-inventors.com/Mary-Anderson.asp


Copyright 2015 © Sharon Marie Himsl

24 comments:

  1. One clever lady, you have certainly opened my eyes about how clever some women have been.
    Excellent theme throughout,
    Yvonne.

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    1. Thanks Yvonne. And we're almost through the alphabet too!

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  2. Hi Sharon - at least she got recognition in the end ... and money wasn't her main motivator as she'd achieved and inherited. Still a great read and fun to know about - thanks Hilary

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    1. I had the impression Mary had a good, full life. Thanks Hilary!

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  3. It's funny how often people reject good advice. Mary was clever.

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    1. She was indeed clever. It's interesting men didn't invent this first, Thanks Wendy!

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  4. Since men mostly drove cars back then I thought for sure a man invented windshield wipers. Now when it's raining and I have to flip mine on, I know who to thank. :)

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    1. My thoughts too. This will be easy to remember. Thanks Chrys!

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  5. I agree with Chrys. I will always think of this lady when I'm driving in the rain now. I have learned about so many interesting women thanks to your posts!

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  6. Thanks Julie. It's funny how we grew up never thinking of women as inventors. It's my hope that current generations will learn the truth. Men and women both have made some amazing contributions in that arena. I think where things get convoluted is where women and men get stereotyped and locked into certain roles. Women are the caregivers and bearers of children, which is true of course for the vast majority (and a time I dearly cherished).....but it doesn't mean they are not also clever innovators and thinkers. I think it may be why the women I found often looked at the safety of things. Similar comparisons could be said of men and the strengths they bring into the ratio. Thanks Julie!

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    1. Appreciate the stop. Nice to meet you Melissa :)

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  8. It's a shame she didn't hang onto the patent and reap the financial rewards of her invention, but it sounds like she lived a full rich life without them. I love those photographs--there's a definite twinkle about her; she looks like a person who knew how to enjoy life.

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    1. Thanks Kern. It was nice to read she had been happy in life, and that losing the patent had not made life difficult. I sense she was well respected in Birmingham.

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  9. Even if she didn't get tons of money from this she is known to have invented it and that is as good as gold. She seemed to not have to worry about money anyway. Great post!

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    1. And there is a certain freedom in that too. Thanks, Birgit for visiting this month.

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  10. You know? It puzzles me how we give this little comforts for granted and we never think there was a time when they didn't excist. I can't imagin driving a streetcar the way you described at the beginning of the post, and yet that was the norm back then.

    It also never cease to puzzle me how NOT farsighted many companies are. That's a reason never to give up. If you have a good idea, stay with it until you find an home for it :-)

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    1. I guess we put up with a lot until we find a better way. We are slow learners apparently!

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  11. So great that you're keeping these women alive Sharon. We take so much for granted and fail to appreciate the contributions made by the fairer sex. It's never too late to be honoured. She was clearly not motivated by money - thank you.

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    1. It's been fun bringing these ladies to life :) Thanks Susan.

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  12. I'm very glad she had a good life even if her invention was mostly ignored to begin with. Sounds like she had other priorities later in life.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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  13. Flabbergasting. I'm going to think about her every time it rains, and I flip on my wipers.

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    1. Ha-ha....yep, every time it rains, David!

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