Winding Up Windshield Wipers


Let’s have a chat about one of the least sexy part of any car. This is a part that, despite the make of the car, almost never gets car enthusiasts excited. Yet, it’s extremely important for visibility and safety. Presenting the windshield wiper!


Did you know that the American inventor Mary Anderson is generally credited with inventing the very first usable windshield wiper all the way back in 1903? Calling it a “window cleaning device”, Mary’s device was a hand-operated wiper that used a lever inside the vehicle to move it. Other inventors who can lay claim to the windshield wiper are Robert A. Douglass, who held a patent for “locomotive-cab-window-cleaner” and James Henry Apjohn whose patent included using brushes that could be hand- or motor-driven. Both these patents were filed in 1903.

Anderson’s original inspiration for the wiper began when she was in car on a snowy stormy day in New York. At the time, drivers had to stick their heads out the side window, blasting all and sundry in the car with the freezing wind, or stop by the side of the road to clear the snow off. Interestingly enough, there were many who believed that Anderson’s invention was dangerous and a distraction to drivers. It is very possible that Anderson herself never profited from her invention as automobiles didn’t enjoy a boom until almost a decade after her invention, by which time her patent had expired.

In 1917, John R. Oishei formed the Tri-Continental Corporation (Trico) and introduced the first windshield wiper made for the two pane windshields that many automobiles of the time had. Oishei’s wiper was spring-pressured to ensure the wiper stayed snug against the glass. Trico and other companies like Bosch, who introduced a rear-window wiper in 1926, was evidence of greater acceptance of the device.

1953 saw the next big leap in wiper technology with Robert Kearns developing the intermittent wiper system which would be installed in millions of vehicles over the years. Unfortunately, Kearns suffered severe physical and mental breakdowns when Ford Motor Company used his technology without compensation. Ultimately, Kearns won settlement for millions of dollars in settlement but alas, the damage had been done.

Wiper Geometry

Alternative configuration wipers  Source:

Alternative configuration wipers


Eccentric/complex arc wipers  Source:
Pantograph-based wipers  Source:

Pantograph-based wipers


Most automobiles use a pivot or radial type of wiper. Wipers are attached to a single arm, which is attached to a motor that uses a lever to convert its motion to an intermittent rotation. Other designs that you may have noticed are wiper arms configured to move in opposite directions. Many commercial vehicles with large windscreens may use a pantograph-based design which features two arms per blade which allows the blade to cover more of the windscreen. Other geometrical designs include using a single-blade set up which can use a simple arc, or in the case of the Mercedes-Benz design, a complex arc where the wiper blade reaches up to the top of the windscreen.


The next steps in wiper technology aim to eliminate the use of the wiper completely. Most ships already use a clear view screen, composed of two layers, of which the outer layer rotates at high speed to shake water off.

In 2013, McLaren experimented with using an ultrasonic force field to clear the windshield but time will tell whether technology like this will replace the tried and trusted windshield wiper.

Practical Notice

Wiper blades should be replaced every 6 months or as soon as you see a change in your driving visibility in rain or snow conditions. One sure sign of wiper blades needing replacing is streaking when you use them or even water patches that are not cleared. Over time, wiper blades get worn out by sun and exposure to the elements, this making sure your wiper blades are in tip-top condition are important to keep you safe on the road.

Now you know enough about the wiper to win the next time there’s a windshield wiper-based trivia game! Or not. Information is always fun.

Fun with CarsJeremy