The invention of the windshield wiper is female!

Author: D.ssa Giovanna Del Bene

As is well known, the windshield wiper is a cleaning device for the windshield of land, sea and air vehicles in case of rain, snow or dust etc. etc. to keep it clean, ensuring visibility. It is present on all vehicles (sometimes even at the rear of the vehicle: rear window wiper) and often by legal requirement.

However, perhaps not everyone knows that the inventor of the windshield wiper swing arm is believed to be a woman: Mary Anderson. The idea was patented in the United States on November 10, 1903 under No. 743,801.

The story about the origin of the idea is controversial. Some narrate that she was a great traveler but did not know how to drive, so she often shifted cabs, and when it rained, the taxi driver was forced to stop to clean the windshield while the meter continued to rise. Others relate that the idea came about because of a visit to New York in the winter of 1903. Anderson observed a streetcar driver keeping both windows open to clean the windshield of snow, so she thought of designing a hand tool to keep the windshield clean. The tool consisted of a lever inside the car that moved a rubber stick on the outside of the windshield.

After obtaining the patent, Anderson tried to sell it, but without commercial success: some claim this was because the invention was made by a woman; others report that the innovation was received negatively because it was thought that the movement of the device could distract motorists. The patent lapsed in 1920.

Likewise, the first automatic windshield wipers were invented by a woman, Charlotte Bridgwood, who filed a patent for her invention in 1917. Unfortunately, Bridgwood’s invention was also met with distrust by the market.

Probably, the timing was wrong. At the time, in fact, automobiles were not so widespread, and it was not until 1922 that Cadillac began selling cars having windshield wipers as standard equipment. According to a cliché, women would always be late; instead, Mary Anderson and Charlotte Bridgwood were “too far ahead” for the time.

“In 2023, WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) has decided to celebrate talented women around the world. Responding to this call, THINX will publish stories of women who have left their mark on intellectual property and their role as carriers of innovation and creativity.”

© THINX Srl – April 2023