Thursday Trivia

Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars! 
This week’s question: What was the first car company to offer headlight wipers?
If you think you know the answer, make the jump and see if you’re right.
I think we take the rain and muck-clearing squeegees on our cars for granted, but few other automotive components have such a rich and interesting history. 
At the dawn of the automotive age there was little need for wipers of any kind as the windshield itself was yet to become a common part of automotive design. The U.S. patent for the first practical windshield wiper was filed in June 1903 by inventor Mary Anderson for her “window cleaning device.” Patents for similar devices were filed around the same time, both in the U.S. and Great Britain, but Anderson’s is generally considered that upon which all modern wiper systems are based.
The Tri-Continental Corporation—today known as Trico—introduced the first rubber wipers for windshields in 1917 and a decade later purchased the company founded by another inventor, William M. Folberth, who had patented a mechanism for automatic rather than hand-actuated windscreen wipers.
Perhaps most famous of all, or at least enough so to have a movie made about it, was the patenting of a practical form of intermittent wiper. Wayne State University engineering professor Robert Kearns created an intermittent wiper control that used capacitive discharge timing as its mechanism. Kearns demoed the device for Ford execs who declined his licensing and manufacturing offer and then released a similarly functioning wiper system on their Mercury cars just a few years later. Kearns sued, and after yet a few more years won. Take that, Ford!
Wiper technology rarely stands still, especially when it’s raining. Having established windscreen wipers as standard features by the thirties, automotive engineers turned their attention to other uses for the rubber squeegees. Pontiac and Buick introduced rear window wipers as an option on their bustle back models for the 1941 model year, while a bit later one company decided that our cars’ headlights also could stand to be cleared of snow and road grime when the going gets tough. As you might expect, it was a company known for innovation on automotive safety from a country known for brutal and long winters.

From Saab History:

It is the SAAB 99 model that saw the introduction of headlight wipers in 1970. The electronical Headlight wiper and combination washer system were designed and integrated into the model and promoted as a safety feature. This feature continued in the wiper / washer form until 2001 on the 9-5 and 2003 with the 9-3 Convertible.

Of course the Saab 99 had the benefit of featuring composite headlamps with a large flat field to clean. In the U.S. at this time the only road-legal headlamps were round sealed beam units in either seven-inch high/low or five inch separate units. Washing or wiping these convex bulbs would prove a challenge.
Today, fuel economy standards demand aerodynamic efficiencies and those have caused headlamp wipers to be replaced in almost all instances with high-pressure washers typically popping up from little pockets in the bumper. Wipers continue to be a primary safety feature on windshields and back windows, as well as a multi-million dollar global industry for their replacements.
Image: Griffin Models

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6 responses to “Thursday Trivia”

  1. Nicolas Bernard Avatar
    Nicolas Bernard

    Well I didn’t get the model, but I was expecting either Saab or Volvo.

    1. Rob Emslie Avatar
      Rob Emslie

      It was kind of expected, wasn’t it?

  2. 0A5599 Avatar

    “Of course the Saab 99 had the benefit of featuring composite headlamps with a large flat field to clean. In the U.S. at this time the only road-legal headlamps were round sealed beam units in either seven-inch high/low or five inch separate units. Washing or wiping these convex bulbs would prove a challenge.”
    Corvettes got headlight washers (on convex bulbs) beginning in model year 1969. Not wipers, though. My ’69 had them, and they sort of did the job, though the bigger problem was dirt on the back of the headlights obscuring the light from getting to the fiber optic harness connector.

    1. Rob Emslie Avatar
      Rob Emslie

      It is my understanding that the washers were added because when retracted the headlamps sat unprotected, immediately behind the grilles on either side and in even more precarious position for receiving muck kicked up by cars ahead. I’m trying to think of another car with retractable lights that also offered washers, but am drawing a blank.

      1. 0A5599 Avatar

        If you are following that closely on wet roads that the muck from the car in front of you is getting past the grilles and onto the headlights, you might find a set of front bumper guards to be a more important piece of equipment. The Vette was my daily driver and only street legal car for about two years, and I tended not to use the squirters because the windshield wiper door was wonky and I didn’t want unnecessary risk to the wiper arms by having it shut at the wrong moment. The backs of the headlights got a lot filthier than the front.

  3. CraigSu Avatar

    I removed the headlamp wipers on my Saab 9-3 after a few years because they got out of alignment and I didn’t feel it was worth cleaning and de-corroding them. Here in the Southern US they really aren’t necessary. I still have them if the next owner wants to clean them up and reinstall them.

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