Charlotte Bridgwood could see the future clearly before anyone else. This mother of three went from vaudeville actress to inventor, changing the world forever. Her family, like many people in Ireland, left due to the Great Famine. Charlotte’s family emigrated to Canada where she would be born and create a life. She married George Bridgwood, an English carriage builder. Together they had three children, their most well-known being Florence Lawrence who acted in her mother’s company. When her husband died of accidental coal gas in 1898 Charlotte moved her family to Buffalo, New York to live with her mother.
Moving to New York was life-changing for Charlotte and gave her the opportunity to become president of a company. Charlotte Bridgwood led the Bridgwood Manufacturing Company where she was able to further develop the windshield wiper. The first design of the windshield wiper was introduced in 1903 by Mary Anderson. While Mary’s invention was groundbreaking, the automation of the system was revolutionary.
Although both these inventions were patented they didn't gain their popularity until after the patent expired. In Mary’s case, she was simply ahead of her time as cars had not gained their acclaim yet. In 1905 Mary tried to sell her invention and met with rejection due to no commercial value being seen. By 1913 manual windshield wipers were standard equipment on vehicles. While Charlotte’s original design used rollers instead, the automation of the action was most important.
This was adopted first by Cadillac as standard equipment in 1922 two years after the patent expired. While these women did not receive the recognition they deserved at the time they served as role models.
Florence Lawrence followed in her mother's steps as an inventor in automotive features. Florence is known for being the "first movie star” appearing in nearly 300 films. The design for the “auto signaling arm” and the mechanical brake signal were both first created by Florence. Unfortunately, like her mother and Mary, she did not receive credit or profit from her design.
Driving became much easier due to inventions like Mary, Charlotte, and Florence and revolutionized the automotive industry. When women occupy a space that does not welcome them it creates adversity. Adversity breeds ingenuity. At Deboer's Auto, we applaud innovation and give thanks to these women for helping create the standard for cars.