Here’s a lesson we all need to learn from windshield wipers

It's the end of the day. The sun is setting, and you’re heading home after a long workday. It’s a long commute home, 45 minutes or more. You’re tired and hope that you don’t hit traffic. The sky above is filled with clouds, and you realize that you’ll probably hit some rain on your drive.

Five minutes in, a light splatter starts. You turn on the wipers for a second, every thirty seconds or so. Ten minutes in the rain is coming down harder, so you adjust the blades’ speed and timing. Fifteen minutes later, you’re stuck in a downpour, and your wiper blades are flipping across the windshield as fast they go, and you’re still struggling to see.

Can you imagine what it was like to drive before the intermittent wiper blades were invented? You wouldn’t be able to make it home during a rainstorm. The first windshield wipers were invented in the early 1900s. They started as brushes, then were replaced by rubber strips that the driver operated with a lever in 1905. In 1917, an electric motor was added so that the blades moved on their own, albeit at one speed. It wasn’t until Robert Kearns invented the intermittent windshield wipers in the 1960s that the modern design we enjoy today was created.

Robert Kearns’s invention changed automobiles and how we drive. We don’t have to stay home when the weather gets bad or wait for the storm to pass. His invention allowed us to weather the storm safely, but it took years for Kearn to receive the credit he deserved for his creation.
While on his honeymoon in 1953, Kearns suffered an eye injury from a champagne cork. While recuperating, he realized that wiper blades would be more effective if they worked like the eyelid did, moving as needed when the eye is dry or if a foreign object enters the eye. For ten years, he tinkered with his design. Finally, he outfitted the blades on a Ford Galaxie convertible. He then went to a Ford factory in Dearborn, Michigan, to show off his design.

Kearns started having regular meetings with the Ford motor company, showcasing his design. For nearly two years, he met with engineers to discuss his creation and waited for Ford’s offer to license his technology. The offer never came. Then in 1969, Ford released their first vehicle with electronic intermittent windshield wipers. Kearns still believed that they would credit him for his work, but again no offer came.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that Kearns realized that his designs had been stolen. The major motor companies had copied his work into their own patents and disregarded his patent for intermittent windshield wipers. He was crushed and began fighting back in court. For nearly a decade, Kearns went to court to get the credit he deserved for his invention. He suffered large financial burdens from the court costs and numerous legal setbacks. Many times, he represented himself in court because he had no choice. Finally, in 1990 he was awarded $10.2 million in a settlement with Ford. Later he won another $30 million from Chrysler. He is now fully credited as the inventor of the intermittent windshield wipers.

As a bulk fuel delivery company, we know that many of our clients feel a little like Robert Kearns right now. The economic fall out of COVID-19 has devastated the local economy. Many local businesses may feel like they are fighting through the wreckage, desperately trying to stay afloat, just like Kearns did during his legal battle.

We’ve been in the California Fuel and Lubricants industry for more than fifty years. We’ve seen change and hard times hit our local community. But these times are unprecedented, and the effects are widespread. Right now, there isn’t a guarantee that the economy will bounce back anytime soon. That can be a daunting feeling for many small business owners.

So let’s take a lesson from windshield wipers and Robert Kearns. Windshield wipers may seem like a small thing, but they are an important vehicle design element. Without these necessary tools, our vehicles would be useless in inclement weather. If you faced a storm at the end of a long workday, you would be stuck, unable to return home and rest from the day. Kearns’ invention allows us to drive through the storm to face another day, just like he did while fighting for the credit he deserved. We can fight through the storms that come with the COVID-19 pandemic, and we want to help.

We can’t make all your struggles as a business owner go away, but we can help. Here are a few of the services we offer that may help your company weather this storm a little better:

  • Fleet Fueling Program: Join our fleet fueling program with access to a network of card lock fueling sites across the company. You can track and manage your fuel expenses with customized reports and tracking. It’s a great tool that will help you save on fuel costs.
  • Bulk fuel delivery: As a wholesale fuel supplier, we can offer bulk fuel delivery for onsite fueling to various locations. Bring your fuel to the worksite instead of driving to fill up. Buying fuel in bulk can also help cut down on your fuel expenses.
  • Quality lubricants: The last thing you need to deal with right now is unexpected repairs and equipment downtime. We offer a wide range of Chevron lubricants and other superior brands to keep your machinery in good working condition and to avoid costly repairs.

We may all feel like we’re driving through the storm right now. But instead of focusing on the downpour, notice your windshield wipers. They move across your windshield, dispersing the water so you can safely make it home through the rain. Remember Robert Kearns and his fight to get credit for his creation. Keep driving through the rain. Together we can all weather the storm of this pandemic.