A is for Mary Anderson

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 21 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

Mary AndersonMary Anderson was a remarkable woman. She was a real estate developer, cattle farmer and vineyard manager, but her real claim to fame is that she invented something we all rely on – the car windscreen wiper.

Anderson was born in 1866 in Alabama in the wake of the American Civil War. Her father died when she was four years old and she and her mother and sisters continued to live in Greene County on the proceeds of his estate.

In 1889, the family moved to the boom town of Birmingham, Alabama, where Anderson was involved in developing the Fairmont Apartments on Highland Avenue. Then in 1893, she travelled to Fresno, California, to manage a cattle ranch and a vineyard.

She returned to Alabama in 1898 to live with her married sister and around 1900 came into a large inheritance from her aunt, some of which she used to take a trip to New York during the harsh winter of 1902.

It was there that she had the idea for her windscreen wiper. Riding a streetcar on a snowy day, Anderson noticed how the driver had to lean out to clear the snow from the windscreen, sometimes even having to stop to remove the ice. When she returned to Alabama, she hired a designer to come up with a hand-operated device that would clear the windscreen and a local company to produce a working model.

Anderson’s device consisted of a lever inside the vehicle that controlled a rubber blade on the outside of the windscreen. 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. Similar devices had been made earlier, but hers was the first to be effective.

In 1903, Anderson applied for, and was granted, a seventeen-year patent for her ‘window cleaning device’ and in 1905 she attempted to sell the rights to her invention to a Canadian company which turned her down saying ‘we do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale’.

Bizarrely, cars and trucks remained windscreen-wiperless until 1922 when Cadillac became the first manufacturer to fit them as standard equipment.

Having let her patent lapse, Anderson made no money from her invention and continued to live in Birmingham managing the Fairmont Apartments. She died in 1953 at the age of 87 and in 2011 was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

9 comments… Add yours
  • Hildred Finch 12th July 2017

    Very interesting, – I am ashamed the Canadian company didn’t have more foresight.

  • zongrik 12th July 2017

    sad she made no $$$

  • Roger Green 12th July 2017

    She died the year I was born.
    There are quite a few inventions that are in the public domain from the start, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


  • Mrs.Dash 12th July 2017

    Wow, pretty informative.
    Lovely start for the ABC

    Click Here to see what Mrs. Dash Says

  • abcwednesday21 12th July 2017

    How intriguing…. I never knew that that was a woman’s invention.

    Thank you for your first entry in the new home of ABC!

    Have a splendid and ♥-warming ABC-day / -week
    Melody (team abcw)

  • Daphne 12th July 2017

    I learned something new today, thanks about that.
    Thanks for your entry to ABC Wednesday.
    Have a nice day. Daphne, ABC team

  • Ann 13th July 2017

    I think it’s quite sad she never saw any money from her invention.

  • Betty 14th July 2017

    An interesting story. Too bad she didn’t get any monetary reward for her invention. We sure take it for granted today.


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