Windscreen wipers were invented in 1903 by an American by the name of Mary Anderson. On taking a trip to New York, Mary saw drivers periodically emerging from their cars to clear their windscreens by hand, and so in 1903 her windscreen wiper arm was patented. This was operated from inside the car by a lever. This was replaced by a mechanical arm with an automatic mechanism in the 1920's. This new system quickly became standard on all American Cars and the design has remained very much the same.
Intermittent windscreen wipers were invented in the early 1960's. They were inspired by the operation of the human eyelid, which only blinks every couple of seconds. The first car with intermittent windscreen wipers was the 1969 Ford Mercury.
Since that time, the windscreen wiper has remained much the same, although nowadays they are sometimes used on the rear window, and occasionally the headlights as well. Cars are now available with rain-sensing wipers which can turn on and adjust the speed of the wipers automatically based on the amount of rain detected.