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Mary Anderson: Slingin' Off the Rain

Trivia: Which came first: the Model T Ford or the windshield wiper?

Might seem counter-intuitive, but it was the wiper! Yep, the first successful windshield wiper was invented, and patented, by Mary Anderson in 1903.

Anderson was inspired after a trip to New York City the previous year, where she observed the plight of streetcar drivers in attempting to keep their windows clear enough to see through. Streetcar drivers constantly needed to stop the car in the middle of the road and reach out into the elements in order to manually clean sleet, dust, rain and soot off their windows, before continuing for another few blocks, then repeating the cleaning process. Wipe, Drive, Repeat.

Upon returning to Birmingham, Alabama, where she had recently relocated to from Fresno, California, to care for an elderly aunt, Anderson drew up plans for her "window cleaning device". She cobbled together a prototype and applied for a patent, which she was granted in 1903. Anderson's invention represented the first successfully functioning windshield wiper and was operated by the driver from inside the car. The driver would push and pull a handle which was attached to lever in order to agitate the rubber blades installed on the outside of the vehicle.


Check out this 1920 Model T truck. The windshield wipers are attached at the top side corners of the glass in order to clear the area most critical to the driver's visibility.

At this time, personal auto mobiles were not very popular—The Ford Model A wasn't even being manufactured yet. In fact, Henry Ford would apply for the patent on the legendary Model T in 1908, five years after the Mary Anderson's windshield wipers!

As a result of this lag in personal auto purchases, when Anderson attempted to sell the rights to her blades most companies turned her down, believing she had a wholly unmarketable product on her hands. However, by 1916 windshield wipers were standard on almost all cars and thousands of Americans everywhere would, perhaps mostly unwittingly, appreciate her innovation in inclement weather and polluted streets everywhere.

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I find this to be quite

I find this to be quite interesting. One of the students in my Introduction to Women's Studies class did a presentation on gender stereotypes in Schoolhouse Rock videos and she pointed out the fact that in the video called "Mother Necessity," there are no women inventors mentioned. However, many women have made several great contributions to life with their inventions, and this post is a strong example of that fact.