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Did you know that a woman from Birmingham, Alabama patented the first workable windshield wiper?

Mary Anderson was born in Greene County, Alabama in 1866. She moved with her widowed mother and sister to the booming town of Birmingham, Alabama in 1889. She built the Fairmont Apartments on Highland Avenue shortly after she arrived in Birmingham. By 1893, she had moved west to Fresno, California where she operated a cattle farm and vineyard until 1898.


Here is the rest of her interesting story . . .

mary anderson windshield wiperMary Anderson from a Newspaper clipping from 1920 (Birmingham Public Library)

Observed a trolley in New York

While on a visit to New York City in the winter of 1902, she was riding in a trolley car on a frosty day when she observed the motorman with both panes of the double front window open because of the difficulty of keeping the windshield clear of falling sleet. She sketched out a prototype of a wiper to clear the windshield and when she returned to Alabama, she hired a designer for a hand-operated device to keep the windshield clear and had a local company produce a working model. She applied for a patent and received it in 1903. On November 10, 1903, a Birmingham, Alabama woman named Mary Anderson was awarded U. S. Patent No. 743,801 for her “window cleaning device for electric cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice or sleet from the window.” The patent was good for 17 years.

Anderson’s device was the most effective

Her windshield wiper consisted of a lever inside the vehicle that controlled a rubber blade on the outside of the windshield. The lever could be operated to cause the spring-loaded arm to move back and forth across the windshield. A counterweight was used to ensure contact between the wiper and the window. Some similar wipers had been made earlier but Anderson’s device was the first to be effective.mary anderson windshield-wiper

People scoffed at her invention

She then tried to sell it to a Canadian manufacturing firm but they refused.

People scoffed at Anderson’s invention, saying that the wipers’ movement would distract the driver and cause accidents. She then tried to sell it to a Canadian manufacturing firm but they refused. Her patent expired before she could entice anyone to use her idea and she never profited from it.

Became standard equipment

After the patent expired in 1920, the automobile manufacturing business grew and windshield wipers using Anderson’s basic design became standard equipment.mary anderson tombstone

Remained in Birmingham until her death

Mary Anderson remained in her home at 1211 21st Street South in Birmingham, Alabama where she continued to manage the Fairmont Apartments until her death at the age of 87. When she died, she was the oldest member of South Highland Presbyterian Church. She died at her summer home in Mounteagle, Tennessee. She is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham.

SOURCE

  1. Mary Anderson obituary – Birmingham Post-Herald June 29, 1953 (Birmingham Public Library)

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24 comments

  1. Carolyn May Wright

    And the first city that used them was Montgomery on fire trucks.

  2. Tommie Morrison

    Interesting…..GO GIRL!

  3. Paul Vinson Crowe

    Very interesting story. Her ingenuity should have been recognized earlier.

  4. I still remember that open cab fire engines had windshield wipers on the outside and inside of the windshields. A very interesting article.

  5. Parley Johnson

    Mary Gayle Murphy Anderson

  6. Mary Grace Anderson

    Gayle Murphy Anderson this is in a fifth grade wonders reading story!

  7. Donna Wa Ma

    I have never heard that. 🙂

  8. Michael Gilbreath

    And the car companies stole her patent!

  9. Brett Davis

    I thought I saw a doc. About a man with the same story. ..and the automotive co. Stole them and he was court for years and only got little money compared to what he spent fighting them. Can’t remember his name. .

    1. Michael Swihart

      That was the guy who improved wipes with the adjustable intermittent control

    2. Brett Davis

      You are so right. .I knew there was something I was mixed up about.

    3. Michael Swihart

      Can’t either but knew it was about the innovation

  10. Jimmy A Pruitt

    I thought she was from Greene co, Al?

  11. Tim Williams

    She was from Greene maybe living in bham at the time

    1. Jimmy A Pruitt

      Good article on Wikipedia.

  12. Jr Burnett

    MaryburnettDennis Anderson

  13. MaryburnettDennis Anderson

    I know,I won a stereo and head sets because I was the ‘first call in with the correct answer’. But I almost never got the DJ to believe my name.

  14. Scott Freeman

    My mom worked for the Anderson company up north

    1. Scott Freeman

      It’s simply anco now I believe

  15. Yes, Jimmy A Pruitt, you are correct. :
    Mary Anderson was was born in Green County, Alabama not in Greene County, Mississippi.

    Source: http://bplonline.cdmhost.com/cdm/singleitem/collection/p4017coll6/id/118
    Source:http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2553

    1. Thank you for the correction. A misread the news article because a period was missing between Greene County and Miss. I’ve corrected the story.

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