From Ohio History Central
Before 1905, automobiles had no means of cleaning the windshield of their automobiles from the inside of their car. In 1905, New York City resident Mary Anderson developed a windshield wiper that a driver could use to clean his or her windshield by constantly pulling a lever inside of the car. This task was tedious, and inventors quickly sought to improve upon Anderson's invention.
Historians debate exactly who invented the first automatic windshield wiper. Most scholars attribute the first automatic windshield wiper, where a motor powered the wipers instead of the driver doing so by hand, to Hawaiian Ormand Wall. Other scholars suggest Cleveland, Ohio, residents William M. and Fred Folberth, two brothers, invented the automatic windshield wiper. The Folberths were clearly the first Americans to develop an automatic windshield wiper.
The Folberths' wiper was vacuum powered. They utilized air from the engine manifold to propel a single wiper across the windshield. Upon reaching the edge of the window, the wiper returned to the window's other side. While the Folberths invented this wiper in 1919, William did not receive a patent for this product until August 16, 1921. In the meantime, William Folberth had already begun to manufacture the wiper in a factory in Cleveland. In 1925, Folberth sold his company.
The Folberths' wiper quickly was replaced. Unfortunately, the wiper was not reliable. By utilizing air from the engine manifold, the wiper would slow down and speed up as the car slowed down or sped up. Drivers desired a more consistent wiper, and during the 1930s, dramatic improvements occurred in electrical wipers, making the Folberths' version obsolete.