While I was waiting for my lunch yesterday at a popular country eatery with a store in front I found a nifty pair of sunglasses with built in rear view mirrors. What an interesting concept. Now with the way that my brain works, I couldn’t help but wonder how the concept of the rear view mirror came to be. Who was the amazing person who created such a simple concept that is so very useful? So I did some digging and here is what I found.
The earliest recorded use of any device that resembles a rear view mirror was in 1911 in the inaugural race of the Indianapolis 500, by Ray Harroun in his Marmon racecar. He mounted a mirror on one of the struts so that he could see behind him. This wasn’t as much a safety feature as it was to lighten the load. As was the custom of the day, a mechanic would ride along with the driver to among other things watch behind to see the position of the other racers. Harroun didn’t take the credit for himself though. He claimed that he had seen a similar mirror mounted on a horse drawn carriage in 1904.
While Harroun’s car was the first record of a mirror mounted on a motor vehicle, the first recorded mention of a mirror to look behind you while in a vehicle dates back to 1906 by author Dorothy Levitt in in her book The Woman and the Car which noted that women should “carry a little hand-mirror in a convenient place when driving” so they may “hold the mirror aloft from time to time in order to see behind while driving in traffic”, thereby inventing the rear view mirror before it was introduced by manufacturers in 1914 by Elmer Berger, the man usually credited with its invention.
No matter where it gets it’s origin, it is rather amazing that a small peice of reflective glass can allow us to look behind us and know what surrounds us. As simple an idea as it is, I wish I had thought of it.