Inventors are inspirational. Mary Anderson was an inventor, real estate developer, apartment manager, rancher, and viticulturist. Some inventions have come from the inventor’s curiosity or interest, and others have resulted from a practical need. The latter is the case of Mary Anderson’s invention of the windshield wiper.
Mary Anderson was born in 1866 in Greene County, Alabama. In 1889 she moved to Birmingham, Alabama with her widowed mother and sister. They built and then managed the Fairmont Apartments. In 1893, Mary moved to Fresno, California. She lived there and operated a cattle ranch and vineyard until 1898. She then moved back to Alabama. In 1902, on a visit to New York City, she observed the driver of a trolley having difficulty seeing due to falling sleet. Drivers with split windshields had to open them to clear them while driving. Other drivers solved vision difficulties due to precipitation by stopping or sticking their head out of the side. Mary is said to have started working on a solution to this problem right away. Once back in Alabama she hired a designer to create a windshield clearing device. She then hired a company to produce a model.
In 1903, she applied for and was granted a 17-year patent for her windshield wiper. This windshield wiper was made of wood and rubber and was operated by a lever that was inside the vehicle next to the steering wheel. Drivers could remove and store the wiper during sunny times of year if they desired. Mary tried to sell the rights to her invention. This was unsuccessful. Similar inventions had been tried and had failed to work before. Another woman, Charlotte Bridgewood, patented an automatic wiper system and never made any money from the invention either. After Mary’s patent expired, windshield wipers became standard equipment.
Mary Anderson continued to manage the Fairmont Apartments until her death in 1953. She was 87, an active member of her church, and had a summer home in Monteagle, Tennessee. Her legacy has made appearances in popular culture. Although her invention was initially perceived as a possible driver distraction, today people cannot imagine driving without windshield wipers. Be inspired! Have a bright day!