In 1903, on a cold day in New York, a woman named Mary Anderson witnessed a trolley car driver struggling to keep his windshield clear of rain and sleet. She noticed that the driver was forced to open the window and lean out of the trolley car to clear the windshield, which was not ideal in the harsh New York winter.
Anderson saw an opportunity to help the driver and came up with an idea for a windshield wiper blade that could be operated by the driver inside the trolley car. After returning home to Alabama, she hired an industrial designer and a manufacturing company to create a working model. Her design included a lever that could be controlled from within the cabin, moving a rubber blade mounted outside on the windshield.
Anderson’s idea was ahead of its time, and the car industry failed to see the value in fitting windscreen wipers to its cars. She even tried to sell the rights to a Canadian company, but they rejected her idea, stating that it would be a distraction for drivers. Anderson’s patent eventually expired in 1920, and she did not apply for a renewal, perhaps disillusioned with the car industry’s lack of foresight.
However, by 1922, Cadillac became the first car company in the world to offer windscreen wipers as standard fit on their cars. Anderson’s invention had finally become ubiquitous on modern cars, and her contribution to automotive safety was recognized in 2011 when she was inducted into the International Inventors Hall of Fame.
Despite not receiving the recognition she deserved in her time, Anderson’s greatest honor came in an episode of The Simpsons when Marge Simpson recognized her achievement. It’s a reminder of how women inventors and innovators were viewed in the early days of the automotive industry.