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  • Jovina Zion Pradeep

Mary Anderson: The Innovator Who Cleared the Way with Windshield Wipers

By Jovina Zion Pradeep


National Check Your Wipers Day is celebrated on May 16th in Latin American countries, and on November 16th in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia. The day is a reminder to regularly check your windshield wipers for optimal visibility in inclement weather.  According to the FHWA (Federal Hioghway Administration), about 21% of all accidents in the United States are weather-related. Visibility is an important factor in driving in poor weather conditions like rain, snow and ice. A survey by MICHELIN® Wiper Blades found that 92% of drivers agree that poor wiper blades can affect their driving ability. However, 90% of drivers do not plan the time to check their wipers properly and 55%+ don’t know how to check their wiper blades properly.

Born in Greene County, Alabama in 1866, Mary Anderson was an unlikely candidate to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In early adulthood, she became a real estate developer in Birmingham, Alabama where she built the Fairmont Apartments. In 1903, Anderson decided to visit New York City and traveled via a trolley car. She was eager to see the views and sights on her journey; yet, harsh weather and a snowstorm blurred the windows. Both Anderson and her driver were unable to see outside. As the creative problem-solver that she was, she suggested that there should be a way to clear the windows without opening them and manually wiping off the snow with the driver’s own hands. However, such a product did not exist at the time. 

 When Anderson returned from her trip, she created a blueprint and prototype of a product that could be activated from within a vehicle to clean the windshield. She created a swinging arm with a rubber blade connected to a lever that could be moved like a joystick by the driver from within the vehicle. Her invention was not attached to the vehicle and could be removed at the end of winter, if the driver wished. She applied for and was awarded a patent for her windshield wiper prototype in 1903. While previous inventors had come up with plans for a windshield wiper before Anderson, none of them had been as effective or successful in fulfilling their function. 

 Anderson’s invention was not initially welcomed by the public; they felt that windshield wipers would lead to accidents on the road by distracting drivers. At the time of its creation, cars were not widely used or distributed and Anderson could not find many customers for her product. In 1913, most Americans owned cars of their own where windshield wipers were used on a large scale. Today, the windshield wiper is a staple in every vehicle; no modern driver can imagine driving without it, especially in a storm. Mary Anderson’s work serves as an inspiration to all women today; your career does not have to be related to your invention, and anything that you create that helps solve a problem that you identify is a great contribution to society. Just like Anderson never gave up when it came to pitching her ideas as an inventor, budding scientists of today should never give up on their ideas, especially when they know it has potential.

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