Mary Anderson

The windshield wipers was invented in 1902 by a woman from Alabama, Mary Anderson (1866 to 1953), for which she received US Patent #743,801 in 1903. [1]

Mary Anderson’s windshield wiper patent description

Who she was

Mary Anderson was a white woman who was born in Burton Hill Plantation in Greene County Alabama in 1866. Her father died in 1870 and the family lived on the proceeds of his estate, allowing Anderson to move to Birmingham and become a real estate developer, and then Fresno, California where she operated a cattle ranch and vineyard. She moved back to Birmingham in 1898 to care for an ailing aunt… who happened to have a trunk full of gold and jewelry. [2] Though her position in society and wealth secured her a comfortable life, she died at the age of 87, having never received any compensation for her invention. [3]

What she did 

During a trip to New York City in 1902, Anderson was riding a trolley car during a winter storm and—probably after the driver opened the windshield panes one too many times to make a feeble attempt at clearing snow and ice—came up with the idea for her wiper blade system, which could be activated by a lever from inside the trolley. [4] At the time, personal automobiles, especially ones that drove in bad weather, were not really a thing. Her invention was ridiculed.

It is difficult to imagine driving in the rain with no windshield wipers today, but after Mary’s invention, it took over a decade before mechanical wipers were standard on automobiles. (During much of this time, automobiles were still being invented.) Many companies profited from this idea, but Mary Anderson never did. Twenty-two years after her patent, Cadillac became the first automobile manufacturer to make automatic windshield wipers standard equipment. [5] Because of her contribution, Mary was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2011. 

How history failed to do her justice

Anderson tried to sell her patent to a Canadian manufacturing firm, but the company insisted the device had no practical value. Though mechanical windshield wipers were standard equipment in passenger cars by around 1913, Anderson never profited from the invention. Her patent expired before she could entice anyone to use her idea. [4]

In fact, Anderson is not even the only female windshield wiper inventor who failed to be recognized or compensated in her own time:

In 1917, a woman named Charlotte Bridgewood patented the “Electric Storm Windshield Cleaner,” an automatic wiper system that used rollers instead of blades. Like Anderson, Bridgewood never made any money from her invention. —