Who Invented the Windshield Wiper?

The truth is that no car manufacturer invented the windshield wiper. Believe it or not, the idea of the first windshield wiper was thought up by a real estate developer, Mary Anderson, who according to, never made a penny from her invention. Continue reading for more information!

Windshield Wiper
Image by Flickr

As is the story, on a cold, wet winter day in the early 1900s, Mary Anderson, originally hailing from the southeastern United States, was riding on a streetcar in New York City when she saw her driver could barely see the road through the sleet-drenched windshield. On that day, Mary Anderson sketched a wiper device concept while in the car. The solution seemed easy. One only needed a mechanical arm operated by the driver that would sweep the snow and rain off of the windshield. With that understanding, she began work!

Anderson’s first prototype was a set of wiper blades made of wood and rubber that were attached to a lever close to the steering wheel.  When the driver pulled the lever, they dragged the spring-loaded arm across the window and back again, eliminating sleet, snow or other inconvenient items. It sounded easy, and it worked!

Thinking that she had a valuable idea going, Anderson contacted a patent lawyer. After months of work, her patent application was filed.  In late 1903 she received U.S. Patent No. 743,801 for a “window cleaning device for electric cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice or sleet from the window.”  This was the first patent filed to address this problem.

As a sharp investor, Anderson then attempted to license her invention.  The issue was that Anderson was ahead of her time.  Motor cars were low-speed vehicles at that time and opening up a front window, or the driver sticking their head out of a side window, was an acceptable way to see the road ahead in messy weather.

When Anderson thought up her idea, automobile technology at that time was surprisingly crude to deal with the issue.  What the car makers did back then was split the front windshield of cars into two sections that could be swung open. This let the driver easily open their windshield to see the road ahead of them in bad weather. The issue, of course, was that sleet and rain would blow into the car.

Because this now nearly acceptable method of cleaning off a windshield was how it was done at the time, Ms. Anderson had various skeptics. Many said that the wipers’ movement would distract the driver and result in accidents, but Anderson didn’t think that way. Anderson still contacted several manufacturing firms with licensing deals, but the companies refused: Her device had no real value, they said, and so licensing was not going to happen.

After years, Anderson ran out of time and her patent expired. Though mechanical windshield wipers were basic equipment in passenger cars by about 1916, Anderson never received a penny for an invention that is on nearly every motor vehicle that is made today. Now you know how the windshield wiper really came about!

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