Inventor You Should Know: Mary Anderson


Some of my favorite inventors who continue to inspire my work and my vision are well known icons of entrepreneurship, like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. It’s important to remember, however, that our world today is built on the foundation of the innovative ideas of many lesser known thinkers and makers often marginalized or forgotten by history. Understanding the contributions made by important inventors that you won’t find in textbooks is an important part of the making process. Mary Anderson is an example of an inspiring inventor you might not know.

Anderson was born in Green County, Alabama in 1866, during a time of significant economic and social development in the south. In young adulthood, she moved to Birmingham, Alabama with her widowed mother. At the age of 36, Anderson traveled to New York City for a visit. While on a trolley car during a sleet storm, she noticed that the trolley operator drove with the windshield windows open, unable to keep his view clear of sleet. This observation would set her brainstorm into motion.

After returning to Alabama, Anderson worked with a designer and a local company to produce a model of a hand-operated device that would clear obstructed windshields. A year later, she patented the device, which utilized a lever fitted inside of a vehicle, which moved a rubber arm across the windshield. This windshield wiper was the first effective solution for a significant problem in transportation safety.

Anderson was unable to sell the rights to the windshield wiper, but when the patent expired seventeen years later, the automotive industry was booming. Her design became standard equipment in automotive manufacturing, and it serves as the origin for more complex and effective designs used today.

Mary Anderson, the inventor of the windshield wiper, is an inventor you should know!