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WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

Do you know of a great woman in engineering that should be recognized? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add her to the blog. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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Woman of the Week – Mary Anderson

Posted August 21, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24

We can thank Mary Anderson when we drive in the rain or snow. She’s the inventor of the automatic windshield wiper.

During a visit to New York City in 1902, she was riding the trolley when she noticed the driver had both windows open to keep them clear of the falling snow. She thought that there must be a simpler way to keep the snow and ice away without having the windows open in the winter.

She went home to Alabama and hired a designer for a hand-operated device to keep a windshield clear. After producing a prototype, she applied for and was granted a 17-year patent in 1903. The device was a lever that was inside the vehicle and controlled a rubber blade outside. The spring-loaded arm moved back and forth across a windshield and a counterweight ensured the wiper blade stayed in contact with the window. Similar attempts at this were made earlier, but Anderson’s was the first to actually work.


The patent application describes how the wiper was to be operated by a handle inside the vestibule of the vehicle, and be easily removable, "thus leaving nothing to mar the usual appearance of the car during fair weather," according to patent language.

In 1905, she tried to sell the rights to her invention, but it was rejected. When her patent expired in 1920, wipers using her design became part of the standard on many cars to be produced. But she was never directly given credit for the idea.

A letter from the firm of Dinning and Eckenstein is kept safe by her great-great-niece, Rev. Sara-Scott Wingo, rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Wingo was interviewed by NPR about her relative in July.

"Dear madam," the letter begins," We beg to acknowledge receipt of your recent favor with reference to the sale of your patent. In reply, we regret to state we do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale."

Wingo suspects her invention wasn’t taken seriously because Anderson was a completely independent woman.

"She didn't have a father; she didn't have a husband and she didn't have a son," Wingo told NPR. "And the world was kind of run by men back then."

She did finally earn some recognition for her idea, only a few years ago though. In 2011, she was inducted into the inventors Hall of Fame.


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