52 Incredible Women: Mary Anderson, Inventor

by | Dec 10, 2014

Mary Anderson and her invention – the windshield wiper. Credit: www.nairaland.com

Driving home from ballet one snowy, sleety night last month, I began to wonder who invented windshield wipers and what had inspired him or her. As the wiper blades slid across the windshield clearing a line of view and creating small slushy drifts on the edges of the glass, I committed myself to finding the answer.

Once home, I discovered that Mary Anderson was the first person to patent windshield wipers (1903). She was an Alabama native who was traveling to New York City in the wintertime for a visit when a snowstorm hit. Filled with frustration at not being able to see the sights during the storm and compassion for the driver of the trolley who frequently had to stop and wipe the windshield by hand, Mary returned home and went to work.

Her invention involved a hand crank inside the car connected to rubber blades on the outside. Most early 20th century cars did not travel at speeds fast enough to make her invention commonly needed, and most people living outside the city did not own cars. Nonetheless, Mary Anderson’s invention was a significant step forward towards the wiper blades that helped get me home safely.

Mary Anderson lived to be 87 years old and was even mentioned on an episode of The Simpsons for her invention (don’t ask!). It is unlikely that she ever imagined that solving a basic problem in the early 1900s would inspire a young woman in Rhode Island in 2014. According to her family and friends, Mary Anderson was intent on using her talents and gifts to improve the quality of her life and the lives of those around her. And she did just that.

Her story is the reason I started this blog. Each week I come across incredible women who encourage me to become the woman I want to be. Some are historical figures, other women are members of my community, school, family, or wider social network. To each and every one of them, this blog is a thank you.

51 incredible women to go!

Grace Miner is a student at East Greenwich High School.


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