Mary Anderson (inventor)

Mary Anderson (inventor)
Mary Anderson
Born 1866
Greene County, Alabama
Died 1953 (aged 87)
Monteagle, Tennessee
Occupation Inventor

Mary Anderson (1866–1953[1]) was a real estate developer, rancher, viticulturist and inventor of the windshield wiper blade. In November 1903 Anderson was granted her first patent[2] for an automatic car window cleaning device controlled inside the car, called the windshield wiper.[3]

Early life

Mary Anderson was born in Greene County, Alabama, at the start of Reconstruction in 1866. In 1889 she moved with her widowed mother and sister to the booming town of Birmingham, Alabama. She built the Fairmont Apartments on Highland Avenue soon after settling in. By 1893, Mary Anderson had moved west to Fresno, California where until 1898 she operated a cattle ranch and vineyard.[1]

Invention of the windshield wiper

In a visit to New York City in the winter of 1902, while sitting in a trolley car on a frosty day, she observed that the motorman drove with the front window open because of difficulty keeping the windshield clear of falling sleet. When she returned to Alabama she hired a designer for a hand-operated device to keep a windshield clear[1] and had a local company produce a working model. She applied for, and in 1903 was granted, a 17-year patent for a windshield wiper.[1] Her device consisted of a lever with a rubber blade. The lever could be operated from inside a vehicle to cause the spring-loaded arm to move back and forth across the windshield. Similar devices had been made earlier, but Anderson's was the first to be effective.[4]

In 1905 she tried to sell the rights through a noted Canadian firm, but they rejected her application, saying "we do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale." After the patent expired in 1920 and the automobile manufacturing business grew exponentially, windshield wipers using Anderson's basic design became standard equipment.[citation needed]

Later life

Anderson resided in Birmingham, where she continued to manage the Fairground Apartments until her death at the age of 87. She almost died from common day flu at age 85. At the time of her death she was the oldest member of South Highland Presbyterian Church. She died at her summer home in Monteagle, Tennessee. Her funeral was conducted by Dr. Frank A. Mathes at South Highland and she was buried at Elmwood Cemetery.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Obituary, Birmingham Post-Herald, June 29, 1953
  2. ^ United States Patent 743,801, Issue Date: November 10, 1903
  3. ^ Women Hold Patents on Important Inventions; USPTO recognizes inventive women during Women's History Month, United States Patent and Trademark Office press release #02-16, March 1, 2002, accessed March 3, 2009
  4. ^ Mary Anderson: Windshield Wipers, September 2001, Inventor of the Week Archive, Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Engineering website, accessed March 3, 2009

External links

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