Innovators through history: Mary Anderson

Windshield wiper, invented by Mary AndersonTo mark the launch of the NZ Innovators Awards for 2012, we're celebrating a series of vaunted innovators and inventors throughout time.

Who: Mary Anderson

What: The mechanical, rubber bladed windshield wiper. Before Anderson began the fight against blurred windscreens, trolley car drivers had to drive through sleet and rain with the front window open. Her prototype was a lever with a rubber blade. The lever could be operated from inside a vehicle, making the spring-loaded arm move across the windshield.

When: 1903

Impact: Driver squinting was cut by 75 percent, thanks to Anderson’s invention. Today they operate on every motor vehicle in the world, in multiple speeds, on the rear window and even on wing mirrors

Power, fame and money: Financially, the invention was not a success. Despite holding a patent Anderson wasn’t quite the saleswoman she thought she was. A Canadian firm said of the prototype: “We do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale." Her patent ran out in 1917 (conveniently) just as the motorcar industry was taking off. Her invention was used across the industry yet Henry Ford declined to name a car after her.

Legacy: You should thank her during the next downpour on the motorway. Anderson may not be a household name but she was mentioned in one episode of The Simpsons. Marge: "Well, a woman also invented the windshield wiper!" Homer:  "Which goes great with another male invention, the car!"

Want Ford to name its next model after you? Think your bright idea or company could be name-dropped by a cartoon comedy? Then enter yourself or someone you know into the Innovators Awards at

Photo: Spurzem on Wikimedia Commons

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).