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Mary Anderson, Inventor of the Windshield Wiper

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Mary Anderson and her invention

Mary Anderson and her invention

Mary Anderson Imagines the Windshield Wiper

Many inventions come from humble beginnings. One such invention that changed the world started as an idea in a young woman's mind in 1902. That woman's name was Mary Anderson.

She was visiting New York City during the winter. Anderson was 36 years old and from Alabama (where winter snow and ice are not a problem). She was sitting on the trolley when she noticed the trolley car's front window quickly filled with falling sleet, which made visibility difficult. The trolley car driver was forced to lean out of the trolley or go outside to clean off the front window with his hands. Anderson imagined a windshield wiper blade that a driver could operate from inside.

Nobody had ever thought of trying to solve this problem.

Early Years

Mary Anderson was born in Green County, Alabama in 1866. She had one sister. Her parents' names were Rebecca and John. In 1870, Anderson's father died. They were able to survive financially on her father's estate. Anderson moved with her mother and sister to Birmingham, Alabama in 1870.

Working Career

When Anderson became an adult, she worked as a real estate developer in Birmingham. She left Birmingham in 1893 and moved to California. There she operated a vineyard and cattle ranch. She returned to Birmingham in 1898 to help care for a sick aunt. Anderson, her mother, sister, sister's husband, and ailing aunt moved to Fairmont Apartments in Birmingham. Her aunt brought a trunk with her during the move. The trunk contained an impressive collection of jewelry and gold. This resulted in Anderson and her family not having any financial worries.


Seeing a New York City trolley driver struggle to keep the front glass of a trolley clean during a snowstorm gave Anderson an idea. She saw this situation as an opportunity. In her mind, she envisioned a windshield blade that someone could operate from inside a trolley or any vehicle. Once she returned to Alabama, Anderson hired a designer to help her create a device to keep a windshield clear. She then had a local company build a working model. Anderson applied for a patent on her idea. A 17-year patent was granted to her in 1903 for her windshield wiper invention. Anderson was officially awarded the patent on November 10, 1903, for her window cleaning device.

Mary Anderson and drawing of her patent idea for the windshield wiper

Mary Anderson and drawing of her patent idea for the windshield wiper

Creation of the Windshield Wiper

The device created by Anderson had a lever on the inside of a vehicle. It controlled a rubber blade located outside of the windshield. This lever was used to cause a spring-loaded arm to go back and forth across a windshield. Contact between the window and the wiper was ensured by using a counterweight. It was also designed to be removed once the winter months were over.

There was another device created earlier. Anderson's windshield wiper was the first one of its kind to be effective. Anderson's mechanism and simple design have not changed too much over the years.

No Buyers

Anderson was given a patent for her device in 1903. During this time, cars were not a popular item. It was even before Henry Ford's Model A started to be manufactured. In 1905, Anderson attempted to sell the rights to her windshield wiper invention to a well-known Canadian firm called Dinning and Eckenstein. They rejected Anderson's application for representation. They did not consider her invention to have sufficient commercial value. They refused to try to sell it. Others saw her invention as a distraction for people driving a vehicle.

Increased Popularity of Automobiles

Anderson's patent expired in 1920. The automobile manufacturing industry began to grow significantly in 1913. The windshield wipers became standard equipment. Cadillac became the first car manufacturer to provide windshield wipers as standard equipment in 1922. This was two years after Anderson's patent expired.

She never made any money from her invention. Charlotte Bridgewood patented the first automatic windshield wiper system in 1917. It used rollers instead of blades. It was called the "electric storm windshield cleaner." She also never made any money on her invention.

Mary Anderson's grave marker

Mary Anderson's grave marker


Anderson lived with her family in the Fairmont Apartments in Birmingham, Alabama. She managed the apartment building until her death. Mary Anderson died on June 27, 1953. She was 87 years old. During her life, Mary Anderson never married and never had any children. In 2011, Mary Anderson was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.


Mary Anderson (inventor) | Wikipedia

Mary Anderson: The Unheralded Inventor of the Windshield Wiper | Inventors Hall of Fame

Biography of Mary Anderson, Inventor of the Windshield Wiper | ThoughtCo

The Windshield Wiper | Invention and Technology

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Readmikenow (author) on September 30, 2021:

MG, thanks.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on September 29, 2021:

Very informative Mike, glad you added to my knowledge.

Readmikenow (author) on September 29, 2021:

Fran, thanks. I wish she was able to make some money off her invention. It seems so unfair she got nothing for a device that changed the way the world drives.

fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on September 29, 2021:

Mike very interesting article. I loved it and LEAVE IT TO WOMEN!

Readmikenow (author) on September 29, 2021:

Miebakagh, thanks. I believe her invention changed the world.

Readmikenow (author) on September 29, 2021:

Dora, thanks. I agree. It is a shame she was not financially rewarded for her efforts.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 29, 2021:

A unique invention by a woman. Thanks.

Dora Weithers on September 29, 2021:

Mary Anderson deserves the recognition. She was ahead of her time. That's genius!