Who invented automotive windshield wipers?

In 1903, Mary Anderson scribbled a drawing of what would become the first successful windshield wiper system.

Illustration by Brett Ryder
Illustration by Brett Ryder

Who invented automotive windshield wipers?
Andre Charbonneau
Ottawa, Canada

In the winter of 1903, a woman touring New York in a streetcar watched how the shivering motorman had to get out constantly and wipe the snow and sleet from his windshield. Her name was Mary Anderson, and later that day she scribbled a drawing of what would become the first successful windshield wiper system. Her device let the driver use a lever from the inside to manually activate "a swinging arm that mechanically swept off the ice and snow," according to the Inventors Museum (www.inventorsmuseum.com). During the summer, the system could be removed entirely.

Anderson's friends back home in Alabama teased her about the invention, but she continued to develop it and in 1904 patented her "swinging arm with a rubber blade." Though she never sold her idea, mechanical wipers became standard features on American cars, including Ford's Model T, by 1913.

Another female automotive pioneer picked up where Anderson left off. Charlotte Bridgewood patented the first automatic windshield wiper in 1917. Her Electric Storm Windshield Cleaner was powered by the car's engine and relied on a series of rubber rollers, rather than blades.