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Anderson's blades helped drivers find their way

December 03, 2006|by JASON STEIN / Wheelbase Communications

They said he was the kind of guy who always had a patent pending.

When John W. Anderson was just a teenager, he knew how to work a saw mill and knew his way around a tile factory better than experienced workers four times his age.

When he was 23, Anderson had already created the world's first bullet casing. Patent pending at just 23 for that invention.

When he was a little older, he was dabbling in farm machinery, automotive parts and other equipment that would make the lives of farmers of northwest Indiana a little easier.

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So it caught virtually no one by surprise that this mind of an inventor would create something that would save the drivers and pilots of the world more aggravation than anything that had come before it.

And if you don't think replacement wiper blades are significant, try to see out of a car window when the original set has worn down to the nub.

Anderson's brilliant mind is helping you every day.

Born in 1883, he created, and patented, more than 100 inventions. But nothing meant more than the wiper blades that helped build his ANCO brand into the world's most popular windshield wiper blade.

The most amazing thing? It actually happened out of necessity, the world's ultimate motivator of invention.

Anderson knew necessity and inventions.

He was already successful when the wiper blade came along. At 35, he founded the Anderson Company, a business that produced a variety of products. Anderson had even won a contract with Ford Motor Company to make manifolds and ignition timers for the Model T.

His company was an unbridled success, but his ability to diversify his business was the real secret to his good fortune.

One night in 1925 changed everything.

As the story goes, on a dark and stormy night in 1925 when Anderson was making a long drive to visit an out-of-town customer, it became difficult to see out the front window.

The wipers on his car were completely worn out.

Anderson searched and searched but could not find a place to purchase a set of replacement blades.

With the help of his team of inventors, he would create the world's first replacement blades. Over the next 30 years, ANCO wipers, as the name would come to be known, would stand for the best in wiper durability.

Anderson helped develop and manufacture wiper blades and arms that fit virtually every vehicle. Of course there were far fewer of them in those days.

But he didn't stop there. Anderson also helped develop wipers that would be used for the military, including the U.S. Navy, Army and Air Force.

Anderson's familiar yellow service cabinet was soon displayed in most of the service stations from California to Connecticut.

Anderson also began a creative form of marketing with informative driver education.

In the 1950s, Anderson's ads stated: "If your wiper blades start to streak your windshield, and don't stop streaking, the rubber is dead. Whenever you see a bright yellow blade service cabinet, you will get prompt, courteous windshield wiper service."

Anderson, the man, would go on to great things. He developed several charitable organizations and finalize the patent for more products.

During World War II, Anderson also helped form the Automotive Council for War Production, which worked to optimize automotive companies' war output.

But, above everything, he was a gifted thinker.

Beyond the wiper business, his inventions helped keep some of the first automobiles on the road with reliable parts.

Beyond the auto business, his foundation (the John W. Anderson Foundation) helped with grants for students in his native area of northwest Indiana, near Gary.

Anderson was a pioneer, a thoughtful inventor and a continual thinker. Even at the time of his death in 1967, he had a patent pending.

The Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Mich, recognized him five years later for his achievements.

According to the hall of fame, "John W. Anderson helped drivers see clearly no matter what the weather. He always had a patent pending."

No one who knew him would have been surprised.

Jason Stein is a feature wrier with Wheelbase Communications. You can drop him a line on the Web at: www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.

Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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