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Prince with a view

110 years ago: Wiper patent for Heinrich von Preußen

rinz Heinrich von Preußen, around 1909

Prinz Heinrich von Preußen, around 1909

This prince is still known today for a piece of clothing: the "Prinz Heinrich cap" was not invented by the Hohenzollern, but he made it popular. This headgear was worn by the members of the Imperial Yacht Club, to which Albert Wilhelm Heinrich von Preußen (1862 -1929) - a passionate sailor and Grand Admiral - belonged. It looked very similar to the uniform caps of the Kaiserliche Marine; and these in turn strongly resembled the "Helgoland pilot caps", which Chancellor Helmut Schmidt later liked to wear and thus contributed to the fact that the "Prince Heinrich cap" remained popular to this day.

But now to his invention: Henry of Prussia was the younger brother of the last German Emperor Wilhelm II, but he did not share his greed for prestige and aggressive arrogance, which contributed significantly to plunging Europe into the First World War. In contrast to his brother, Heinrich was regarded as a popular figure with a diplomatic sense and was internationally respected.

from the patent file of  Heinrich von Preußen

From the patent file of Heinrich von Preußen 1908

The naval officer was very interested in modern technology, which led to a honorary doctorate from Harvard University, among others. Heinrich took part in the test run of Germany's first submarine, for example, and immediately recognized the military potential of this development. But he felt comfortable not only on water, but also in the air: Heinrich was one of the "Old Eagles", he was one of only 817 persons who had passed a pilot examination in Germany before August 1, 1914. At 48, he was the oldest pilot in the world in 1910.

So it comes as no surprise that the prince was also an inventor. When driving his Opel, he encountered the following problem: "In most cases, a transparent protective screen is fitted to protect the driver of a motor vehicle.... However, the arrangement of such a protective screen causes another problem, namely that the screen soon becomes opaque due to the deposit of dust or dirt". His solution was a "windscreen cleaner for the front protective screen of motor vehicles consisting of a scraper ruler projecting out in the manner of a cantilever". He received a patent ( pdf-Datei DE204343A) for this on 24 March 1908.

Anderson was first

Drawing from Mary Andersons patent document

Drawing from Mary Andersons patent document

But Heinrich was not the first to develop a windscreen wiper for cars. On November 10, 1903, the American Mary Anderson from Alabama had already received the patent for the world's first functioning windscreen wiper ( pdf-Datei US 743801). Incidentally, this is one of the earliest patents for a female inventor.

Neither of them must have made any notable profits with their inventions. Like Heinrich's windshield wiper, Anderson's invention was operated by hand. And that remained the state of the art for a long time to come. It was not until 1926 that Bosch presented a windshield wiper powered by an electric motor.

Unknown fotographer (G. Bain?), via Wikimedia Commons, Patentschrift DE204343A, US74380

Last updated: 25/03/19 


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