NPR highlights Alabama woman’s 1902 invention

windshield wiper

Leave it to a woman to make everyone’s life better.

Mary Anderson
Alabama native Mary Anderson (1866-1953) is credited with inventing the first operational windshield wiper.
[Photo Credit: Encylopedia of Alabama]

Even though she didn’t drive herself, back in 1902 Birmingham native Mary Anderson saw a problem plaguing drivers across the Big Apple and devised a solution that it would be hard to imagine living without — the windshield wiper.

As the story goes, on a wet, freezing winter day Anderson was riding a streetcar during a trip a New York City when she noticed the driver was having problems seeing out the front window. Repeatedly the trolley driver had to get out and clean off the windshield in order to proceed.

Which is precisely when Anderson had her eureka moment. Upon returning to Birmingham she sketched a device she believe would solve the problem, wrote up how it would work and applied for a patent.

By November 1903, she was awarded patent #743,801. But Anderson was ahead of her time and car builders of the day saw no commercial value for her invention. It went nowhere for years.

Mary Anderson window cleaning device
Mary Anderson’s illustration of her 1903 patented “window cleaning device.”
[Photo Credit: United States Patent and Trademark Office]

Nevertheless, modern driver’s have come to rely on her invention and thus her ingenuity was recognized by NPR’s Morning Edition on Tuesday.

“Even the most commonplace devices in our world had to be invented by someone,” the program said. “Take the windshield wiper. It may seem hard to imagine a world without windshield wipers, but there was one, and Mary Anderson lived in that world.”