Who invented the windshield wiper?

Imagine driving through heavy rain or snow without windshield wipers. The visibility would be severely compromised, making it dangerous and difficult to navigate the roads. Windshield wipers play a crucial role in maintaining clear visibility, but have you ever wondered who invented this essential automotive feature? In this article, we will explore the fascinating history and the inventors behind the windshield wiper.


Windshield wipers are a vital component of any vehicle, ensuring clear vision during inclement weather. They help drivers maintain focus on the road by swiftly clearing away rain, snow, and debris from the windshield. The invention of the windshield wiper revolutionized automotive safety, preventing accidents caused by impaired visibility.

Early Attempts at Windshield Wiping

Before the modern electric windshield wipers, we are familiar with today, early attempts were made to address the issue of obscured visibility while driving.

The Manual Methods

One of the earliest manual methods of clearing windshields involved the use of hand-operated wipers. These wipers consisted of a rubber blade mounted on a handle that the driver manually operated across the windshield. While this method was an improvement over having no wipers at all, it required the driver to divert their attention from the road, posing its own safety risks.

Another manual method involved a spring-loaded arm with a cloth attached to it. The driver would pull on a lever, causing the arm to swing across the windshield, wiping away rain or snow. However, these early attempts were not efficient enough to handle the demands of modern driving.

Inventors and Innovators

In 1903, an inventor named Mary Anderson patented the first effective manual windshield wiper. Her design consisted of a lever-operated rubber blade that could be manually moved across the windshield. Although Anderson’s invention was a significant advancement, it required the driver to operate the wipers manually.

Decades later, Robert Kearns, an engineer, made significant contributions to windshield wiper technology. Kearns invented the intermittent wiper system, which allowed for automatic wiping at regular intervals. This innovation brought about a significant improvement in convenience and safety for drivers.

Development of Electric Windshield Wipers

The introduction of electric windshield wipers marked a major milestone in automotive history, offering a more convenient and reliable solution.

Automatic Electric Wipers

In 1917, William M. Folberth patented the first automatic electric windshield wiper system. This invention utilized a small electric motor to power the wiper blades, eliminating the need for manual operation. Although Folberth’s system was a significant step forward, it required the driver to activate the wipers manually.

The first electric windshield wipers to achieve widespread success were developed by Bosch, a renowned engineering company. In the early 1920s, Bosch introduced the first fully automatic electric wiper system. This system utilized an electric motor, which would automatically operate the wiper blades when the driver activated the switch. Bosch’s invention provided a much-needed convenience and safety enhancement for drivers.

Intermittent Wiper Systems

In the 1960s, Robert Kearns, the same engineer who contributed to windshield wiper technology earlier, invented the intermittent wiper system. This revolutionary system allowed the wipers to automatically sweep across the windshield at regular intervals, adjusting to the intensity of the rain. Kearns’ invention was a significant breakthrough as it eliminated the need for constant manual adjustments, providing optimal visibility in varying weather conditions.

Recognizing the value of Kearns’ invention, Ford Motor Company adopted the intermittent wiper system in their vehicles in the early 1970s. This adoption further popularized the technology and solidified its place in the automotive industry.

Advancements and Improvements

Over the years, windshield wipers have seen continuous advancements and improvements, enhancing their effectiveness and convenience.

Rain-sensing Technology

One notable advancement is the development of rain-sensing technology. This innovative feature uses sensors to detect the presence of raindrops on the windshield. Once the rain is detected, the system activates the wipers automatically, adjusting the speed and frequency based on the intensity of the rainfall. Rain-sensing wipers provide a hands-free and seamless experience for drivers, allowing them to focus on the road without worrying about adjusting the wiper settings.

Rear Windshield Wipers

While the invention and development of windshield wipers primarily focused on the front windshield, the need for clear visibility extended to the rear windshield as well. Rear windshield wipers were introduced to address this issue, allowing drivers to have an unobstructed vision from all angles. Rear wipers function similarly to front wipers, effectively clearing rain, snow, and debris from the rear windshield.


The invention of the windshield wiper revolutionized automotive safety by ensuring clear visibility during inclement weather conditions. From the early manual methods to the advent of electric wipers and the subsequent advancements in technology, windshield wipers have come a long way. Innovators like Mary Anderson, and Robert Kearns, and companies like Bosch and Ford have played pivotal roles in shaping this essential automotive feature. Today, modern windshield wipers with automatic and intelligent features continue to provide drivers with convenience and safety on the roads.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Who invented the first windshield wiper? Mary Anderson is credited with inventing the first effective manual windshield wiper in 1903.

2. What was the significant contribution of Robert Kearns? Robert Kearns invented the intermittent wiper system, which allowed for automatic wiping at regular intervals, improving convenience and safety for drivers.

3. When were electric windshield wipers introduced? Electric windshield wipers were first introduced in 1917 by William M. Folberth, but the first fully automatic electric wiper system came later in the early 1920s by Bosch.

4. What is rain-sensing technology? Rain-sensing technology is a feature that uses sensors to detect raindrops on the windshield. It automatically activates the wipers and adjusts their speed based on the intensity of the rainfall.

5. Are rear windshield wipers common in vehicles? Yes, rear windshield wipers have become a common feature in many vehicles to ensure clear visibility from all angles. They function similarly to front windshield wipers, clearing rain, snow, and debris from the rear windshield.

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