When would you guess that rear view mirrors first appeared on automobiles? Anyone? If you said 1911 you would be correct as Ray Harroun had a rear view mirror on his Marmon racing car in the Indianapolis 500 race that year. He actually got the idea from seeing women use hand-mirrors to see behind them while driving a horse-drawn carriage back in 1904.
The man credited with inventing the rear view mirror is Elmer Berger but he really did not invent it but rather patented it for incorporation.
Rear view mirrors really have had few changes since the initial offerings in 1911. The prismatic rear view mirror came into existence in the 50’s. Otherwise known as the daytime/ nighttime mirror, it can be tilted to reduce glare from headlights behind you. These of course come in manual tilt and automatic versions and the first cars to see these mirrors were made by Chrysler Corporation in 1959. However, they were not popular with customers as an option and they faded from the market for thirty years. Finally, in the late 80’s, they became popular and began appearing on all cars made after that.
The only other major change to rear view mirrors over the years has been the rear-mounted camera so that drivers, especially SUV drivers, can see directly behind the vehicle. These are now showing up on newer models as an added safety feature so that anything immediately behind the vehicle or next to the rear bumper or tailgate, can be seen.
The rear view mirror is one of those features on a vehicle that we take for granted, like so many other parts. Buying a new aftermarket rear view mirror is not terribly expensive but still, in today’s economy, why pay more if you don’t have to. Replacement parts like the mirror, the hood, the car door panel or even the grille, are easy to replace and oh so inexpensive if bought at a salvage yard. It just makes good money sense to buy used parts if those parts are easy to install and the rear view mirror is definitely easy to install.
The next time you go for a drive and look into your rear view mirror, remember to say a silent “thank you” to Elmer Berger for patenting these safety features. Without the rear view mirror you would have to hold a compact hand-held mirror every time you wanted to see behind you and that would definitely be inconvenient.