I suspect my windshield wipers are possessed. Last week was an extremely wet week here in the Midwestern US. It was the kind of week when baseball fans wait through rain delays, swimming pools sit unused, and drivers are constantly frustrated that the ever-present swish-swish of wiper blades never quite synchs with the beat of the song on the radio.
So on Thursday I made the awful decision to cancel a trip to Grant’s Farm to feed the baby goats. My youngest son had been looking forward to the visit all week. His big brother was spending a very wet week at camp and this was a special trip for just the two of us. He was heartbroken and I felt terrible, but of course there was nothing I could do because sometimes the weather wins.
Fortunately that wasn’t the attitude of can-doer Mary Anderson of Birmingham, Alabama when she visited New York in the early 1900s. It was a terribly snowy and icy day when she set out to see the city sights, grateful, I suspect, to be in the relative comfort of a street car. That is until the driver slid aside the iced-over windshield to get a better view of where he was going and she received a blast of icy wind in the face.
Real estate developer, cattle rancher, winemaker, and all around spunky lady, Anderson thought there had to be a better way to deal with the visibility issue. Right there on the streetcar she began to sketch some ideas.
After a number of tries, she finally came up with a prototype that worked and on November 10, 1903, Mary Anderson was awarded a US Patent for her “window cleaning device for electric cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice or sleet from the window.”
What she had devised was a set of wood and rubber wiper arms the driver could drag across the windshield to clear it of debris with just the pull of a lever. Unfortunately for Ms. Anderson, the automobile wouldn’t really catch on in the US for another ten years or so. None of the manufacturers she approached was interested in her idea, citing concerns the device would be a dangerous distraction to the driver if the swish-swish didn’t synch up with the beat on the radio. One Canadian company even informed her that the invention had no practical application, a proclamation for which I have to assume someone eventually got fired.
Though Mary Anderson’s patent expired before she could make any money from her window cleaning device, she is usually credited as the first inventor of the windshield wiper. She was followed by a number of other inventors with a number of other patents. And obviously, wipers did eventually catch on, becoming fairly standard automobile accessories by 1919, proving remarkably practical and applicable.
Except for when they become possessed. This past Saturday the clouds finally parted, and we took advantage of the sunny day to go to Grant’s Farm and feed the baby goats, this time as a whole family. It was a great day, but I guess the windshield wipers on my car disagreed because on the way home, they turned on by themselves and despite my best efforts they’ve not stopped since.
Though I like to think I am a pretty spunky lady, I am not as mechanically minded as Mary Anderson was. Still I am willing to accept there may be an explanation that is more mechanical than spiritual for the behavior of my windshield wipers. My husband has thankfully formulated a few ideas of how to fix them when he gets the chance. I hope it’s sometime soon because for now I am that eccentric lady who is driving through the sunshine with my wipers on low intermittent. I find they’re terribly distracting. Their swish-swish never synchs up to the beat on the radio and they have no practical application whatsoever.