It was a cold and windy, winter’s day in New York City when Mary Anderson boarded the trolley. The year was 1903, the raindrops began to freeze, and each one could be heard as they clicked against the windows. Once settled in her seat, Mary examined her surroundings. She watched as the driver struggled to keep the windshield clear. He would reach out his open window every few minutes and clear his view. Mary pulled her wrap tighter around her shoulders and continued to observe.
Check the Expiration Date
Inspired by this trolley ride, Anderson developed a hand-operated windshield wiper which the driver or passenger could use from the inside of the vehicle, without needing to reach out to the windshield. She patented the “cleaning window device” in 1903 that was valid for 17 years. Unfortunately her patent expired before the first true wave of automobile purchases began.
Great Minds think Alike
Meanwhile, across the pond in the United Kingdom, Irish inventor James Henry Apjohn invented a brush system to clean windshields that moved up and down on the glass. Mr. Apjohn applied and received a patent in 1903 as well. Others followed; in 1911 Gladstone Adams received a patent, and pianist Josef Hofmann and Mills Munitions of Birmingham both claimed to hold the first patent.
A Defining Moment
John R. Oishei, theater owner in Buffalo, New York, was involved in a vehicular collision as a bicyclist ran into Oishei’s National Roadster on yet another rainy New York night, in 1917. Though no serious injuries were sustained, the incident became the driving force for Mr. Oishei to prevent future accidents. He formed the Tri-Continental Corporation (TRICO) and introduced a windshield wiper referred to as “Rain Rubber.”
In 1922, a patent was issued to William Folberth for the first motorized windshield wipers. Using vacuum power, this wiper system was standard equipment on autos during 1960s. Since this system tapped into the engine of the auto, it was affected by the speed of the car. A dispute evolved between Folberth and TRICO. As part of the settlement, TRICO purchased Folberth. The company then became a leading supplier of windshield wiper blades, and expanded into air-powered blades for military vehicles and boats.
The Rhythm of the Rain
Change was in the air in the late 1950s. Rock and Roll, poodle skirts and the electric-powered windshield wipers all were born in this era. This new technology to power windshield wipers allowed for versatility in speed, wiper size and larger windshields.
Inspired by the blink of an eye, Robert Kearnes, an engineering professor, invented the intermittent wiper system which was then offered for the first time on the 1969 Ford Mercury. This, however, resulted in a lawsuit from Kearnes against Ford and Chevrolet, which was eventually settled.
Tomorrow and Beyond
With each day, changes occur in a variety of products and technology; windshield wipers are no exception. In the last 24 months, silicone rubber blades are now available which hold up to the heat and elements better than rubber blades. Metal wiper frames are on their way out, and curved molded plastic frames are on the way in.