STEM History:

Mary Elizabeth Anderson  


American Real Estate Developer, Rancher, Viticulturist, and Inventor of the Windshield Wiper.

Birth/Death Dates

 February 19, 1866 – June 27, 1953


On a visit to New York City in the winter of 1902, Anderson observed a trolley driver struggling to see past his car’s windows because of falling sleet. The driver had to open the window, lean out of the vehicle, or stop the car to go outside to wipe the window with his hands. Anderson identified what she observed as a problem and an opportunity. She envisioned a windshield wiper blade that the trolley driver could operate from the inside.
She hired a designer to design a hand-operated device to keep windshields clear and had a local company produce a working model. Her device consisted of a lever inside the vehicle that controlled a rubber blade on the windshield. Operating the lever caused the spring-loaded arm to move back and forth across the windshield. A counterweight ensured contact between the wiper and the window. The device could be easily removed if desired. While similar devices existed, Anderson’s was the first to be effective.

Anderson applied for and was granted a 17-year patent for her window-cleaning device in 1903.

Educational Background


Struggles this Innovator Overcame

Anderson applied for her patent in 1903, before cars became popular. At the time, many people couldn’t see the value of her invention and were concerned that drivers could be distracted by operating the device or the moving wipers.

When Anderson tried to sell the rights to her invention in 1905, her application was rejected. The responding firm said, “We do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale.”

Problems this Innovator Solved

While sitting in a New York City trolley car on a frosty day in the winter of 1902, Anderson observed that the trolley driver struggled to see past the windows because of falling sleet. To clear his visibility, the driver had to open the window, lean out of the vehicle, or stop the car to go outside to wipe the windscreen with his hands.

How this inventor changed the world (or at least their corner of it)

By 1913, the automobile manufacturing business had grown exponentially, and windshield wipers were standard equipment. Cadillac became the first car manufacturer to adopt them as standard equipment in 1922. However, Anderson’s patent expired in 1920. She never profited from her invention.

Lasting changes from this inventor’s work or how they trailblazed

The windshield wipers of today are based on Anderson’s simple mechanism and basic design.

In 2011, Anderson was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.