A Glance Behind You – The History of the Rear-view Mirror

For car racing fans, the Indy 500 is the event of the year. The Indy 500 is a race in which racecar drivers conquer the track to drive over 500 miles worth of laps. Their speed and expertise can attract over 100k fans to the Indianapolis stadium. This years’ Indy 500 is scheduled to take place on August 23, 2020. The first racer that won the first Indy 500 race captured the hearts of car enthusiasts worldwide. The Indy 500 has been a fan favorite for the last few decades, and it holds historical elements to the evolution of our modern-day vehicles. The first winner of the Indy 500 designed a mirror that has become standard on cars all over the world - the rear-view mirror. From the make of a vehicle to the engine, there are many aspects of a car to be enthralled with. However, with a mirror dripping in so much history, this is an ode to the rear-view mirror.

Even though he’s not the first to patent the rear-view mirror, most historians tip their hats off to Ray Harroun as the first to create it for a vehicle. Ray Harroun was a car racer who won the first Indy 500 race. Harroun was a car enthusiast who was a part-time car racer who worked in a car factory. Racing for him was not just to fulfill a need for speed but also to see his created design put to the ultimate test on a race track.

Harroun created a six-cylinder vehicle called the Marmon Wasp. To much of his competitors’ surprise, it only had one seat - for the driver. Race Cars during that time had two seats for the driver and the passenger. The passenger seat usually was reserved for a mechanic who would accompany the drivers as a second pair of eyes. The mechanics also could perform any needed repairs if or when the car experienced them. Harroun did not create a second seat for the Marmon Wasp because he realized his vehicle could go faster without the added weight of a second passenger. He installed a rear-view mirror to replace the passenger seat. During that time, the rear-view mirror was not regularly used or popular.

Harroun was the only lone driver on the tracks of the 1911 Indy 500. And his thoughtfulness and strategic building proved to be successful. Harroun scored the first-place win out of 39 other competitors and sealed his name in history. He later explained that though he was the first to create the rear-view mirror, it did virtually nothing to aid in his win. The mirror shook so violently during the race; he could barely see anything in it. While he was the first to install it in a vehicle, he had borrowed the idea from a previous horse-drawn buggy he saw a few years earlier.

Harroun’s contributions have led to later renditions such as The Cop-Spotter by Elmer Berger. From there, the usage of the rear-view mirror rolled into history without a second look back. Since this stint in history, there have been hundreds of patents and alterations to the rear-view mirror. Modernized rear-view mirrors now have additional features such as a compass, cameras, anti-glares, and more. Harroun paved the way for a mirror that now comes standard in all vehicles. While we look to the past with a glance, the rear-view mirror currently holds a permanent place in our automotive future.


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