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Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Not wiped from history

From time to time I’ll write about little nuggets of information from The Little Book of Tyneside and Northumberland (Zymergy Publishing, 2005), as this was the area where I was born.


Windscreen wipers, Wikipedia commons
Wipers – nothing to do with the Battle of Ypres – seem a sensible feature for the windscreens (windshields in US) on cars. Yet cars didn’t have them for many years.

According to Wikipedia, at least three inventors patented windscreen cleaning devices in 1903: Mary Anderson, Robert Douglass, and John Apjohn.

The inventor Mary Anderson is popularly credited with devising the first operational windshield wiper. She called her invention a "window cleaning device" for electric cars and other vehicles (electric cars in 1903!) Her version was operated via a lever from inside the vehicle, and closely resembles the wiper found on many early car models.

A similar device is recorded three months prior to her patent, with Robert A Douglass filing a patent for a "locomotive-cab-window cleaner".

Irish born inventor James Henry Apjohn (1845–1914) patented an "Apparatus for Cleaning Carriage, Motor Car and other Windows" which used either brushes or wipers and could be motor driven or hand driven. The brushes or wipers were intended to clean both up and down or in just one direction on a vertical window.

In April 1911, a patent for windscreen wipers was registered by Sloan & Lloyd Barnes, patent agents of Liverpool, England, for Gladstone Adams of Whitley Bay, my home town in the north-east of England. Adams was a photographer; a model of his design can be found in the Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne.

The first designs for the windscreen wiper are also credited to Polish concert pianist Józef Hofmann, and Mills Munitions, Birmingham who also claimed to have been the first to patent windscreen wipers in England. The Shell Book of Firsts (1975) doesn’t mention Anderson, Douglass, Apjohn or Adams. It states that the first mechanically operated wipers were introduced in the USA in 1916. In the UK, Mills Munitions put wipers into production in 1921. The first automatic windscreen wipers were produced by W.M. Folberth in 1921; the first electric wipers were produced in 1923.

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