Design Moment: Rear view mirror, 1921

The motor car had been around for 35 years before the advent of the rear view mirror

The rear view mirror or, according to US electrical engineer Elmer Berger, the ‘Cop Spotter’. Photograph: iStock

The rear view mirror or, according to US electrical engineer Elmer Berger, the ‘Cop Spotter’. Photograph: iStock

 

While US electrical engineer Elmer Berger (1890-1962) is usually credited with inventing the rear view mirror in 1921 – he patented it then and went on to manufacture mirrors long after carmakers had designed their own – they had been around in makeshift form for sometime before then, with a very public – and successful – use recorded in 1911 in the Indianapolis 500.

Radical move

Motor racer Ray Harroun lined up at the starting line solo – a radical move as all 39 other competitors had two people up front, a driver and a second man to look backward to tell the driver what was going on behind him.

Instead, Harroun had a rear view mirror mounted on his dashboard. He won and the lightness of his car was deemed the main reason. Post-1921 as more cars took to the road, the obvious safety case for rear view mirrors increased their popularity – though as Berger called his mirror “the Cop Spotter” he may have had other factors in mind.