Shop Parts keyboard_double_arrow_right
Need car parts? Select your vehicle
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Summary
  • The first rear-view mirror was introduced when part-time racer Ray Harroun installed one on his Marmon Wasp during the 1911 Indianapolis 500.
  • Side-view mirrors were patented by Elmer Berger in 1921. They were marketed as “cop spotters” and were considered a luxury item.
  • Some modern vehicles are moving away from car mirrors in favor of cameras and sensors.

Mirrors, no matter their position, are essential for all cars because of the sheer utility they provide. They let drivers see what’s behind them and cover blind spots. The extended view helps drivers stay alert and proactive, allowing them to react accordingly to other vehicles, pedestrians, and other obstacles.

But when exactly were rear-view and side-view mirrors first used, and how did they become a standard vehicle component? Let’s take a trip through the history of automotive mirrors and explore their possible innovations in the future.

1911: The First Rear-View Mirrors — Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp

Ray Harroun, also known as “the Little Professor,” installed rear-view mirrors on a car for the first time during the 1911 Indianapolis 500. He won the race, which also happened to be his final one.

marmon wasp rear view mirror wikimedia
The Marmon Wasp is a unique one-seater, but its setup made it difficult for him to turn his head and look behind him. To compensate, Harroun added a rear-view mirror to his car. Image credit: Wikimedia.

The story goes that he opted to drive slow and steady compared to his competitors, veering on the side of caution in favor of maintaining a constant speed. He used his extensive knowledge of vehicles to calculate the optimum speed.

See also  How to Remove Blind Spot Mirrors

Harroun wasn’t just a racer. He was also an automobile aficionado who worked at a car factory, and he saw races as a means to put his own cars to the test.

He entered one of his custom vehicles, the Marmon Wasp, into the 1911 Indianapolis 500. It’s a unique one-seater, but its setup made it difficult for him to turn his head and look behind him. To compensate, Harroun added a rear-view mirror to his car.

The addition proved to be incredibly useful because it helped Harroun maintain a steady speed and drive safely. He only needed to change four tires throughout the race — a stark contrast to his competitors, most of which had to change up to 14 tires.

In the end, he won first place, proving that being calm and cautious does pay off.

1921: Side-View Mirror Patents — Elmer Berger’s “Cop Spotters”

Ten years after the first rear-view mirror was installed on a car, Elmer Berger attempted to patent the side-view mirrors. Curiously enough, he wanted to patent them as “cop spotters.”

Cars had different body styles at the time in 1921, so the cop spotters were installed on the front fenders and the sides above the spare tires. Although these mirrors were designed with safety in mind, many drivers used them to speed without getting caught.

Thousands of happy customers choose CarParts.com. Shop Now

While it was never confirmed if Berger was successful with his attempt to patent the side-view mirror, there’s no denying that he was the first to sell it to the general public.

See also  NHTSA to Test New Camera-Based Side-Mirror Technology

The accessory was a hit with the masses for many reasons, and the added safety they offered eventually became a must-have for car owners.

1966: The National Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Rise of Car Mirrors

As America’s automobiles evolved, so too did the safety concerns related to them. Cars and motorcycles became increasingly common, as did the number of accidents on the road.

To minimize the risks of accidents, the National Motor Vehicle Safety Act was legislated in 1966. The act didn’t mandate the installation of side-view and rear-view mirrors. However, it did pave the way by requiring all vehicles to have seat belts, impact-absorbing steering columns, safety glass, and other safety features.

It didn’t take long for manufacturers to include side-view and rear-view mirrors to make driving safer and easier. Nowadays, it’s illegal to drive a vehicle that doesn’t have functional side-view and rear-view mirrors in numerous states.

For example, in Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, and New York, it’s illegal to drive a vehicle that doesn’t have both left-side and right-side mirrors. In other states, such as Alabama and Colorado, you must have at least two types of mirrors when driving.

20XX: The Future of Automotive Mirrors — What’s Next?

bmw i8 mirrorless bmw pressclub global
In 2016, BMW released a concept car dubbed the i8 that had no mirrors at all. The wide mirrors were replaced with thinner, smaller wings with cameras, making the vehicle more aerodynamic. Image credit: BMW PressClub Global.

Automotive mirrors have saved a lot of lives over the years, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be around forever. Some modern vehicles are moving away from car mirrors in favor of cameras and sensors.

See also  Better Together: A Guide to Buying Parts in Pairs

In 2016, BMW released a concept car dubbed the i8 that had no mirrors at all. The wide mirrors were replaced with thinner, smaller wings with cameras, making the vehicle more aerodynamic. The car also had sensors that warned the driver of threats and obstacles.

The rear-view mirror in the cabin has also been replaced with a monitor that gives drivers a wide view of the vehicle’s surroundings. The camera footage is compiled and displayed on a monitor installed where the rear-view mirror would normally be.

The setup eliminated blind spots and increased spatial awareness, all while making driving easier, as all of the vehicle’s surroundings are displayed on one monitor.

Meanwhile, a car mirror tech by Vietnamese automaker Vinfast made waves in early 2024. MirrorSense makes it so that drivers never need to adjust car mirrors to get the perfect view. It uses sensors to track the driver’s head and eyes and deliver an optimal view of what’s behind and on the sides of the vehicle.

With these developments in mind, a future where cameras and sensors have enhanced or even replaced automotive mirrors seems likely.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

File Under : Trivia and History , Features Tagged With : ,
Bosch
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

View all Questions & Answers

expand_more
CarParts.com Answers BE PART OF OUR COMMUNITY: Share your knowledge & help fellow drivers Join Now