History of Wiper Blades

Nowadays, wiper blades are regarded as self-evident, but they weren’t always a given. Namely, they were not part of early vehicles, which is the reason why driving in the rain was very difficult, if not almost impossible. In contrary to the pre-existing horse-drawn carriages, where horses stopped whenever they came upon an immovable object, cars could not stop by themselves, since they needed a driver. Therefore, the invention of windscreen wipers was only a matter of time.

The first windscreen wipers were invented in 1903. Irish born inventor James Henry Apjohn developed a UK-patented windscreen wiper. He came up with a method of moving two brushes top to bottom to clear the windscreen.

Another inventor was working on a solution about the same time and is today credited with the first American windscreen wipers and the first operational windscreen wipers. Her name was Mary Anderson. During her visit in New York City in 1902, Mary noticed a streetcar driver, who was struggling to keep the windscreen clear, so that the passengers could arrive to their destination as soon as possible. The driver had two options: either he would leave the glass down and get cold and drenched or he would stop the streetcar to clear the glass from the outside. As Mary Anderson had noticed, both options were impractical. Mary Anderson’s invention was quite simple, but a similar principle of windscreen wiper system is still used today, only that everything is more technically sophisticated. Her invention had to be operated manually – from inside the vehicle, of course. That was still better than before, when drivers had to wait for the rain to stop, drive with an open windscreen or stop the vehicle in order to clean the windscreen from the outside. By 1916, however, her invention was available in all U.S.-made vehicles.

In 1917, Charlotte Bridgwood patented the first automatic windscreen wiper system. Her invention was not a commercial success, however. Most drivers still had to steer and shift with one hand while operating the windscreen wipers with the other.

wiper-blades-history-oldFollowing a collision in 1917, J. R. Oishei sought a way to keep windscreens clear and invented a hand-operated squeegee known as “rain rubber”. The device (windscreen wiper) had to be operated manually and was installed on the top of the windscreen. Oishei patented the device, while the company Tri-Continental Corporation (later known as Trico) was incorporated to manufacture it.

In 1921, American inventor William Folberth patented a vacuum-powered, single blade wiper, run by suction from the engine’s intake manifold. Trico, now a major name in windscreen wipers, bought Folberth’s company in 1925 for $1 million dollars and began to sell the product. The system, however, had a few problems, since the wiper speed did not match that of the car. With the throttle wide open, the engine vacuum dropped, and windscreen wipers either slowed down or stopped altogether. Nonetheless, this system had been used for several years.

The electric version of windscreen wipers, attached to the top of the windscreen, was created by Bosch in 1926 and was reserved for the most prestigious vehicles.

The next major improvement in the history of windscreen wipers happened in 1962, when Robert Kearns invented intermittent power wipers. He demonstrated the system to Ford, hoping they would license his technology. Instead, they came out with their own version of intermittent wipers, which they introduced to the public in 1969. Other car manufactures followed their lead. Robert Kearns filed a patent infringement suit against Ford and other car manufactures, and, after many years of litigation, won multi-million dollar lawsuits.

As you can see, the history of windscreen wipers is definitely more diverse than you have probably ever imagined. The development from manually operated windscreen wipers to windscreen wipers with built-in sensors lasted more than 100 years.

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History of Wiper Blades