Little-Known History of the Car Windshield

Drivers on the road today do not even remember a time when cars were manufactured without windshields, so the history of one of the most important vehicle safety fetures is nearly forgotten. But the New Year provides an opportunity to look both forward and glance into the past, and so Astro Auto Glass tells the story of the windshield’s development.


The Early 1900s: Optional Plate Glass Windshield

The first cars were essentially motorized horse carriages, and like horse-drawn carts, did not offer any front protection from the elements or road debris. In fact, drivers wore goggles for protection. The idea of having a see-through protective layer installed on the vehicle itself did not appear until 1904, over a decade after the first car rolled off the assembly line.


The first windshields were nothing more than two sheets of window-pane glass. Many models had an upper pane could be folded down when it got too dirty to see through. While these first windshields offered some protection against wind and road debris, they were not standard equipment until Oldsmobile made them so in 1915. However, early windshields were very dangerous to passengers and passers-by in the event of an accident because they shattered into sharp shards.


The 10s and 20s: Developments in Shatter-Resistant Glass

Improving the safety of glass used in automobiles became an interest among all automakers, and they got some help from unlikely sources. French artist and scientist Edouard Benedictus is typically credited as the first inventor of laminated glass. He accidentally developed shatter-resistant glass when a beaker coated with cellulose fell and broke but retained its shape. His process, however, proved too expensive for widespread use in the auto industry.


Others took up the task of improving on Benedictus’ laminated glass, including Carleton Ellis who patented a resin laminate that bonded glass without discoloration. By the 1930s, laminated auto glass was made using polyvinyl butyral (PVB), which made it stronger and afforded protection from UV rays and noise.


The 30s to the 50s: New Design Possibilities

Improvements in auto glass and engineering led to a number of innovative windshield designs in the first half of the 20th century. In the 1930s, Cadillacs offered cars with a V-split windshield that allowed half of the windshield to swing out. Chevrolet countered with a tiltable windshield. In the later part of the decade, the single curved windshield was developed, providing superior strength and body integrity.


New design innovations in the 1940s were driven by safety concerns. Tucker cars advertised “pop out” windshields that would eject in one piece if impacted by a hard blow from the inside.


Panoramic curved windshields of the 1950s boasted improved visibility by shrinking blind spots. By reducing framing, these windshields also allowed for more spacious car interiors. As a result, automobile designs became less boxy.


The 60s to Today: Safety First

Increased driver safety is largely credited to Ralph Nader’s lobbying for government standards in the 1960s. In the 60s, federal standards were established for windshield strength and clarity and limits on windshield penetration.


The auto glass industry continues to improve windshields to offer more protection and comfort. Nano-technology promises increased UV protection, limited heat absorption, heads-up display potential and self-cleaning windshields.


As soon as the latest developments are ready for consumer application, you can count on Astro Auto Glass to deliver! In the meantime, we continue to use the highest quality materials available now—Pilkington glass and DINITROL adhesive. Contact us for mobile windshield replacement service.



Second Chance Garage. “A Clear View: History of Automotive Safety Glass.”