Of Windshield Wipers and Turn Signals: Little-Known True Stories Behind Cars and Safety
Aug 17, 2017 11:17
We don't even think about most of the many safety features our cars have to keep us safe. Take for example, your windshield wipers. You probably don't give them a second thought unless they quit working. But there's a fascinating story behind not only the windshield wiper, but many of the features cars of today have.
Car enthusiast and blogger Alex Perdikis walks us through some of the most fascinating of these stories:
Mary Anderson and Her Window Cleaning Device
Born in Alabama in 1866, Mary Anderson lived a life very different from most women of her era. She built and managed real estate, including the Fairmount Apartments on Birmingham's Highland Avenue. She went west in 1893, where she operated a cattle ranch and vineyard in Fresno, California. But it was a trip to New York City in the winter of 1902 that gave birth to the windshield wiper.
As Anderson rode the trolley, she noticed the motorman drove with both double front window panes open despite the frigid temperatures because it was impossible to keep the windows clear of sleet.
After returning to Alabama, Anderson hired a designer and the two developed a hand-operated window cleaning device. She commissioned a local company to produce a prototype. The device used a lever inside the vehicle to control a rubber blade on the windshield's outside. Her design included a counterweight to maintain pressure and a spring-loaded arm for movement. Devices for keeping windows free of ice and rain had been tried before. Anderson's was the first that actually worked.
Crash Test Dummies: They're Older Than You Think
The first recorded auto accident occurred in Ohio City, Ohio, in 1891. Driver James Lambert and passenger James Swoveland were heading down the road when their vehicle hit a pesky tree root and careened out of control. The car crashed into a horse hitching post. Injuries were minor, but as cars became more efficient with the ability to travel at higher speeds, deaths quickly followed.
Crash test dummies became invaluable in the mid-1960s as a way to test the structure of various vehicles and the impact crashes have on a human body. Samuel W. Alderson invented the test dummy in 1949, but it was his crash test dummy version designed specifically for auto crash testing that's saved an estimated 330,000 lives. Crash test dummies are still used to gauge safety.
A Silent Film Star Takes a Turn for Safety
Florence Lawrence, a silent film star, bought her own car when most Americans could not. She loved to drive, learned all about mechanics and quickly realized that a mechanical turn signal would be much more efficient and safer than using hand signals. With that in mind, she invented the mechanical turn signal as well as the first brake signal in 1914. Unfortunately, she didn’t patent her inventions and received neither the recognition or money she deserved.
Now our cars have sensors to keep us from hitting pedestrians and help us avoid collisions. We have airbags that deploy to keep us safe if a collision occurs. But we also have pioneering inventors to thank for the basic vehicle safety features we use every single day.
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