From a woman’s wise advice to an indispensable car accessory: the invention of the rearview mirror

More than 100 years ago, the english racing driver dorothy levitt recommended looking behind you from time to time when driving a car. The result is a versatile high-tech tool that no vehicle should be without.

Dorothy Levitt in a Napier 26 HP in 1908. Photo: picture alliance//HIP

Dorothy levitt in 1908 in a napier 26 HP. Photo: picture alliance//HIP

Maybe it had to come this way. Because women have a relationship with mirrors that most men can’t even begin to understand. In any case, a woman invented the accessory we all look at every day, and which men like to revile as a "makeup mirror. This refers to the rearview mirror.

In her 1909 handbook for budding female drivers, "the woman and the car" – the first work of its kind – english racing driver dorothy levitt recommended looking behind the wheel of a car from time to time, using a specially designed hand mirror. With this advice she showed foresight. However, it was almost 20 years before ford took up the idea in 1927 and became the first manufacturer to fit mirrors as standard equipment on its cars.

Born in 1882, dorothy levitt must have been a thoroughly unusual woman. She was an author, feminist and the first female racing driver in england. As such, she outshone her (male) competition and achieved speed records that she broke again the following year. As early as 1905, she raced down the track at 146 kilometers per hour, which was unimaginable at the time.

From record to royal driving instructor

At first glance, no one believed that dorothy levitt could travel at such breakneck speeds. She is described as very girlish, appeared delicate and petite. Yet she was ambitious and extremely determined. This is documented in a diary entry from april 1903: "first english woman to take part in a public motor vehicle race; did not win; will be better next time."

In the following months she notes numerous races won. After a victorious motorboat race (dorothy levitt went on a record chase with pretty much all the vehicles), she is presented with a prize by the king of england, eduard VII. Received. Later, it instructs queen alexandra and other aristocrats in the art of motoring.

Always a coffee with you

Then dorothy levitt, who also works as a journalist, decides to write the first book for women who no longer want to play the role of co-driver, but want to get behind the wheel themselves. In her book for novice drivers, she explains the technology of the car and gives plenty of tips, for example: "never change from the lowest speed to the highest speed!" she also explains how to avoid the already smoldering conflict between pedestrians and animals on the one hand and car drivers on the other hand. And advises that when a woman stops in front of a house, she should turn off the engine so as not to disturb it more than necessary. Incidentally, the book recommends that the woman in the car should also carry a weapon, such as the webley automatic pocket pistol, ready to hand. A piece of advice that fortunately did not become permanently accepted.

Her work lives on – as an E-book

Dorothy levitt dies of morphine poisoning in 1922. Her book "the woman and the car" is still available today, now also as an e-book. And the "hand-held rearview mirror" has evolved over the decades into a high-tech device: today’s rearview mirrors can be heated and are equipped with warning signs (outside) or show the image of a rear camera and thus help with navigation (inside). Some mirrors even have sensors that regulate the interior climate of the vehicle. It all came about thanks to a 100-year-old piece of advice: "just before starting take the glass out of the little drawer and put it into the little flap pocket of the car."

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