On June 18, 1903, Mary Anderson applied for a patent on her “window cleaning device.”
This device closely resembled the windshield wipers of the early days of the automobile. It operated by the driver or passenger manipulating a lever or crank on the inside of the passenger compartment. A patent was granted on November 10, 1903, to Mary Anderson who tried to market the device to automotive companies but was unable to find anyone interested. She put the patent in a drawer and it expired.
Competition was almost immediate.
At about the same time, James Henry Apjohn patented a device in the United Kingdom in 1903 which moved a pair of brushes up and down on a vertical plate-glass windshield.
A lack of locations to use windshield wipers delayed interest.
Part of the problem with the earliest versions of windshield cleaning devices was the lack of windows on the cars of the day. For many cars, windshields were an option. In 1929, wraparound windows, available as an option, became a status symbol. But the problem of having to reach out the window with a squeegee was enough to spur on inventors long before enclosed cabin vehicles became standard.
A rainy location becomes a hot-bed of invention.
April of 1911 saw a patent registered for windshield wipers by Sloan & Lloyd Barnes, a patent agent of Liverpool, England, for Gladstone Adams of Whitley Bay. Claims of patents on the wiping device sprang up in the rainy United Kingdom by pianist Josef Hofmann and Mills Munitions, Birmingham, both claiming to have the first patent.
A car accident that bolstered the development of wiper technology.
The history of the windshield wiper received a major boost on a rainy night in 1917. John R. Oishei, who owned a theater in Buffalo, New York, was struck by a bicyclist while driving in his National Roadster. In spite of the fact that the injuries to the cyclist were not serious, Mr. Oishei became determined that this type of accident shouldn’t happen again. He formed the Tri-Continental Corporation that introduced the first windshield wiper called the “Rain Rubber.”
Again, competition creeps in like a vulture.
In 1919, William Folberth applied for a patent for the first motorized windshield wiper system. The patent was granted in 1922 for the vacuum powered wiper system. Vacuum is a by-product of the operation of the automotive engine and was tapped to power his design. Vacuum powered wipers were installed as standard equipment until approximately 1960. As the owner of the Folberth Auto Specialty Company of Cleveland, Ohio, a dispute arose between Folberth and the Tri-Continental Corporation.
An equitable settlement is reached concerning the vacuum powered wiper system.
As a means of settling the dispute, the Tri-Continental Corporation purchased the Cleveland company. Tri-Continental went on to become well known for their vacuum powered wiper systems. While they worked well to keep the windshield clean, they were known for not being fast and would slow down on acceleration of the vehicle.
The birth of TRICO.
Tri-Continental became known as TRICO and has become one of the world’s leading producers of windshield wiper blades and refills. Another development of this company was the air-powered wiper systems for trucks, military vehicles and diesel powered boats.
A change comes in the late 1950’s.
The late 1950’s and 1960’s saw the changeover to electric motor powered wipers. While an intermittent wash system was in use for vacuum powered systems, electric motors maintained their speed and allowed more versatility in various speeds and modes of operation and allowed for a larger wiper size and larger windshields.
The development of intermittent wipers.
Robert Kearnes, an engineering professor at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, invented the modern intermittent wiper system which was offered for the first time on the 1969 Mercury line produced by the Ford Motor Company. Kearnes claims to have come up with the idea from the human eye lid action which sweeps across the surface intermittently.
Keeping the headlights clean and bright.
1970 was to see the introduction the most recent major advancement in wiper technology with the introduction of the headlight wiper by the Saab Automobile company. These have not seen a wide range of usage in the United States except on cars which come so equipped.