Nesmith's Chevy Dealership Resources

History of...Windshield Wipers

Posted by Wynne Phillips on Mar 18, 2015 10:05:22 AM

Windshield wipers are standard now on any car you buy. We're so used to them now, it would be odd if they weren't. But it wasn't always so common a feature on the vehicles we drive. Let's take a look at the history of the windshield wiper.

old car windshield wiper

Mary Anderson Invents the Windshield Wiper

Mary Anderson was riding a streetcar one night in a snow storm in 1903. The car was designed with a sort of system where the windshield was in panels that could be moved around when the screen in front of the driver was obscured with the weather. Mary saw that is didn't work very well, and sketched her own version.

mary anderson inventor windshield wipersMary came up with a prototype that would attach to a lever near the driver and the driver would operate the wipers by pulling the lever. She patented the product but no car company was interested. The patent expired but her design became standard issue in every car by 1913, leaving her without the profit from it.

There was some concern about the driver's ability to run the wipers and drive the car so the wipers became one of the first car parts to have an electric motor attached. This left the wipers on constantly while the small motor attached was running.

Robert Kearns Invents the intermittent Wiper Setting

A man by the name of Robert Kearns was legally blind in one eye and found it hard to see out the windshield with the wipers moving at a fast pace. He decided that there should be intervals of speeds for the wipers and the intermittent wiper we all know was born.

Just as Ms. Anderson had, Mr. Kearns showcased his idea to several car companies, although they all denied a use for it. Within a couple of years, Ford introduced their new intermittent wiper with other manufacturers doing the same, again leaving the original inventor without profit. After many years in court, Mr. Kearns finally got a portion from both Ford and Chrysler. You can see his story depicted in the Greg Kinnear film, Flash of Genius.


As technology advances, so has the design of the windshield wipers.  That said, the one we see most often now has stuck with manufacturers for a very long time. Now, you can get wipers for your back window as well, and even your headlights.

Next time it rains or storms, be sure to thank Mary Anderson and Robert Kearns for your clear windshield. 


Check out our available inventory for vehicles that are made to keep you safe from the elements and your windshield rain and snow free.

Browse Our Available Inventory


Topics: New Car Buying Tips