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Who Really Invented the Intermittent Wiper?

Discovering the Mystery: Who Invented the Intermittent Wiper? Let's dive in and say hi to the genius innovator!


Who Invented the Intermittent Wiper?

The Early Days of Windshield Wipers

Windshield wipers have been a part of automobiles since their inception. The first wipers were manual and required drivers to operate them by hand. In 1903, Mary Anderson invented the first automated wiper, which consisted of a lever that could be controlled by the driver from inside the car. By 1916, the first electric motor-powered wipers were being sold. These wipers became standard on most cars by the 1920s.

The Need for Intermittent Wipers

As windshield wipers became more common, drivers began to realize they had limitations. One of these limitations was the inability to adjust the speed of the wipers. The wipers would only work at one speed, no matter the intensity of the rain. This became a safety concern as drivers were forced to either overuse the wipers or not use them at all to maintain visibility. This led to the need for a windshield wiper system that could be adjusted for the speed of the rain.

Drivers also found the constant swish of the wipers to be irritating, especially during light rain. The noise and repetitive motion of the wipers became a distraction and could even cause eye strain. The need for a wiper system that could be set to operate intermittently was clear.

Robert Kearns, the Inventor

Robert Kearns was an engineer and inventor who spent his career working for Ford and other automotive companies. In the 1950s, he began working on the idea of an intermittent windshield wiper system. He recognized the need for a wiper system that could adjust to the speed of the rain and be set to operate intermittently. Kearns believed that by inventing this system, he could revolutionize the automobile industry.

Kearns' first breakthrough came in 1963 when he invented the first intermittent windshield wiper system. He filed for a patent in 1964 and was granted a patent in 1967. Kearns approached Ford and other automotive companies with his invention but was turned away. They claimed that his invention was not revolutionary and that similar systems were already in use.

Kearns spent the next several years fighting in court to prove that his invention was unique and deserved a patent. In 1978, after years of litigation, Kearns won his case against Ford and was awarded a settlement of millions of dollars. As a result, intermittent wipers became standard on most cars and continue to be a common feature on automobiles today.

In conclusion, the development of windshield wipers has come a long way from hand-cranked to electric. The need for a wiper system that could adjust to the speed of the rain and be set to operate intermittently was a clear necessity for drivers. Robert Kearns recognized this need and invented the first intermittent windshield wiper system. Despite facing obstacles, he fought for his invention and ultimately won, making intermittent wipers a standard feature on cars today.

Kearns' Legal Battle

Robert Kearns' creation of the intermittent wiper was an innovation that changed the face of automotive safety. However, shortly after its invention, Kearns found himself embroiled in lengthy legal battles against companies that had used his design without permission. This section explores Kearns' legal battle with Ford, other companies' infringement, and the resolution and aftermath of the lawsuits.

The Dispute with Ford

Robert Kearns sued Ford Motor Company for patent infringement in 1978, after discovering that they had incorporated his design into their vehicles without his permission. The lawsuit, which took almost a decade to resolve, was incredibly stressful for Kearns, who represented himself in court and suffered a heart attack during the proceedings.

One of the most significant issues in the case was determining the exact date that the intermittent wiper had been invented. Kearns had initially contacted Ford in 1969 to propose the technology, but the company had declined to buy the patent. The intermittent wiper had subsequently appeared in Ford vehicles as a standard feature, leading Kearns to believe that his design had been stolen.

The case ultimately went to trial in 1990, and Kearns was awarded $10.2 million in damages for the infringement. However, Ford appealed the decision, and it was later overturned in 1995. While Kearns was able to obtain settlements from other automotive manufacturers, including Chrysler and General Motors, his victory against Ford was short-lived.

Other Companies' Infringement

Unfortunately, Ford was not the only company to use Kearns' design without permission. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Kearns discovered that a number of other automotive manufacturers had also incorporated the intermittent wiper into their vehicles, including Chrysler, General Motors, and Mercedes-Benz.

The legal battles with these companies, which lasted several years, were just as grueling as the lawsuit with Ford. However, Kearns was able to obtain settlements from all of them, which helped to financially support his family and his ongoing legal battles.

Resolution and Aftermath

After decades of fighting, Kearns was eventually able to obtain settlements from all of the automotive manufacturers that had used his design without permission. However, the emotional toll of the legal battles had taken a significant toll on his mental well-being.

Kearns struggled with depression and alcoholism for much of his life, and his battles with the automotive industry only exacerbated these issues. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 77, having spent much of his life fighting for recognition and compensation for his invention.

The legacy of Robert Kearns' intermittent wiper lives on today, not just in the countless vehicles that continue to use his design, but also in the legal battles that he fought to defend his intellectual property. While Kearns' story is one of perseverance and determination, it is also a cautionary tale about the high cost of innovation and the lengths that inventors may need to go to protect their creations.

The Legacy of the Intermittent Wiper

Safety and Comfort

The invention of the intermittent wiper has revolutionized the way drivers experience comfort and safety while on the road. Prior to the invention, drivers had limited control over the speed and frequency of their wipers, which created serious visibility issues during heavy rain or snowfall. The intermittent wiper changed this by allowing drivers to adjust the wiper speed and frequency for different weather conditions. Since its invention, the intermittent wiper has become a standard safety feature on almost all vehicles. In fact, a study conducted by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials found that the intermittent wiper significantly reduces accidents caused by poor visibility during inclement weather. The study showed that vehicles equipped with the intermittent wiper were involved in 13% fewer crashes compared to those without it. Moreover, the intermittent wiper has also made driving more comfortable. Before the invention of the intermittent wiper, drivers were forced to continuously adjust the wiper speed themselves, which could be distracting and tiring. The ability to set the wiper on an intermittent setting allows drivers to focus on the road and driving, leading to a more fulfilling driving experience.

Advancements in Automotive Technology

The introduction of the intermittent wiper marked a significant milestone in the development of automotive technology. It was one of the first instances where a small adjustment to a vehicle's design had a significant impact on safety and comfort. Since the introduction of the intermittent wiper, automakers have continued to push the envelope when it comes to safety and comfort features, from lane departure warnings to rearview cameras.The intermittent wiper also paved the way for the development of other weather-sensitive technologies, such as automatic headlights and rain sensors. These advancements make for a safer and more comfortable driving experience by reducing the need for drivers to make constant adjustments while on the road.

Continued Controversy

Despite the significant impact of the intermittent wiper on driver safety and comfort, controversy still surrounds its invention. The intermittent wiper was patented in 1964 by Robert Kearns, an engineer from Michigan. Kearns claimed that he had come up with the idea for the intermittent wiper while on a road trip in 1963. However, Kearns' patents were not without controversy. Several large automakers, including Ford and Chrysler, were sued by Kearns for infringement on his patents. These cases dragged on for years and involved millions of dollars in legal fees. In the end, Kearns was awarded damages by some, but not all of the automakers, and his patents were ultimately deemed invalid by the US Patent Office.The controversy surrounding the intermittent wiper has led to a larger debate about the purpose and role of patents within the automotive industry. Critics argue that patent laws are too lax, which allows large corporations to profit off the work of individual inventors like Kearns. On the other hand, supporters believe that patents are essential for incentivizing innovation and protecting inventors' rights. In conclusion, the invention of the intermittent wiper has had a profound impact on driver safety and comfort. It was a significant milestone in the development of automotive technology and led to other weather-sensitive features that make driving a safer and more comfortable experience. Nevertheless, the controversy surrounding its patenting and use within the industry serves as a reminder of the ongoing debate surrounding the role of intellectual property in innovation.

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