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Mar 1, 2023

Four Innovating Women in the Early Auto Industry


March is Women's History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements of women who have made significant contributions in various fields. The automotive industry, historically a male-dominated field, has seen many remarkable contributions from women who have defied stereotypes and paved the way for others to follow in their footsteps. In this blog post, we'll highlight four influential women who have made their mark in the earliest days of the automotive industry.

1. Mary Anderson (1866-1953)

Mary Anderson was an American inventor who is credited with inventing the windshield wiper in 1903. Anderson came up with the idea while riding a streetcar in New York City during a snowstorm. She noticed that the driver had to open the windshield and wipe off the snow by hand, which was a dangerous and time-consuming process. Anderson sketched her idea for a mechanical windshield wiper and filed a patent for it in 1903. Her invention paved the way for safer and more comfortable driving in inclement weather, and it is unthinkable to be without wipers today.

Unfortunately, Mary Anderson wouldn’t make a dime from her invention. When she first patented wipers in 1903, automobiles hadn’t taken off in popularity yet and her invention was dismissed as having no commercial value. It wasn’t until Cadillac made windshield wipers standard equipment in 1922 that their popularity became standard.


Image of windshield wipers


2. Bertha Benz (1849-1944)

Bertha Benz was the wife of Carl Benz, the inventor of the gasoline-powered automobile. Bertha played a crucial role in the early days of the automotive industry by being the first person to take a long-distance trip in an automobile. In 1888, Bertha and her two sons took a 120-mile trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim in Germany. The trip was a success, and Bertha's journey demonstrated the potential of the automobile for long-distance travel. Bertha also acted as Carl's business partner, helping to promote and market his invention. This 120-mile trip garnered national interest in the automobile and earned the company its first sales. Bertha was also an inventor, inventing brake lining and solving several practical mechanical issues during her journey. 


Image of a few older model T like cars


3. Florence Lawrence (1886-1938)

Florence Lawrence was a Canadian-American actress and inventor who made significant contributions to the automotive industry. Lawrence is credited with inventing the first automatic signaling arm, which later became the turn signal. She also developed the first mechanical brake signal and a new type of brake system. Lawrence was known as the "first movie star" and appeared in over 270 films throughout her illustrious career. 


Image of car brakelights


4. Margaret Wilcox (1893-?)

Margaret Wilcox was an American mechanical engineer who invented the first car heater in 1893. Wilcox's invention used hot water from the car's engine to heat the interior of the vehicle, making driving in cold weather much more comfortable. Her invention was later improved upon and became a standard feature in cars. Wilcox also designed several other automotive innovations, including a combined clothes and hat rack for cars and an ashtray that could be fitted to the car's window.


Image of someone turning the heat dial in their vehicle

These four women played important roles in the development of the automotive industry, and their contributions should be celebrated and remembered. Their inventions and innovations helped to make driving safer, more comfortable, and more accessible. They were pioneers in a field that men largely dominated, and their achievements have truly paved the way for future generations of women in the automotive industry. For more information on Women's History Month and to find Women's History Month events near you, visit


About Sullivan Tire and Auto Service:

Headquartered in Norwell, MA, Sullivan Tire and Auto Service is New England’s home for automotive and commercial truck care with 78 retail locations; 17 commercial truck centers; 14 wholesale satellite locations; two truck tire retread plants; two LiftWorks facilities; and three distribution centers. The foundation on which Robert J. Sullivan started Sullivan Tire in 1955 was, “Treat everyone, customers and fellow employees, as you would a member of your family,” and that tradition continues today. Sullivan Tire continues to grow with more than 1,200 employees and locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine. For more information on Sullivan Tire please visit

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