Teen-Age Inventor Seeks His Fortune Through Uncommon Windshield Wiper
CHICAGO (AP) _ While many other 18-year-olds are thinking about college courses, Alonzo J. Haney III is thinking about windshield wipers and the idea of becoming a millionaire.
Haney invented a windshield wiper that already has caught the eye of General Motors Corp. He also has his own company, HMI Inc., which he says is backed by more than $1 million in investments.
Not bad for a teen-ager who earned ″C’s″ in high school science.
Haney, who goes by the nickname Chip, puts himself in some respectable company - with inventors like Thomas Edison.
″They’re inspirational, they defy odds and I guess that’s what I am doing right now,″ he said in an interview Thursday at his company’s spacious Chicago office.
″When I look out this window, I think a lot about what space of the sky I want to go after next,″ said the youth, who lives in the suburb of North Chicago.
His path to fortune began simply. He was driving his car to pick up his mother from work one rainy day in October 1986 when he noticed the windshield wipers didn’t work well.
″I took out a pad of paper and a pen and I started to sketch out new ideas of a better wiper blade,″ Haney recalled.
That night, the made the first prototype out of a garden hose at home.
Haney says his wiper can scoop rain, ice and snow off a windshield and toss the debris as far as four feet. It is specially designed to hug the windshield more closely than traditional wipers, he said.
When he found out he would have to pay about $10,000 to hire an attorney to file a patent application, Haney decided to do the research and application himself.
His patent was approved, and Haney marched into GM’s executive offices in Detroit the day after he graduated from high school last year to persuade the giant automaker to use his wiper on GM cars. Company officials have promised to test it.
Haney is putting the final touches on a contract with Alofs Manufacturing Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich., which will make and distribute his invention.
″We’re hoping to have it (the contract) complete and signed next week,″ said Alofs owner Eugene DeFouw.
DeFouw said Haney’s earnings would be based on the number of wipers sold. In addition to GM, he said, a few Japanese automakers have expressed interest. Meanwhile, he has invented 28 other products, five of which have patents pending, he said.
″I spend about 18 hours a day thinking about what I want to make,″ Haney said. ″I don’t date, I don’t have time for that right now.″
In his office hang two paintings, which Haney said tell a lot about what motivates him.
One depicts a young black man, shirtless and hunched over, struggling to be taken seriously.
″Now I can be accepted as an equal, but 40 years ago, you wouldn’t have found me in this office,″ said Haney, who is black.
Another painting is of a man playing polo.
″I love polo because it’s very challenging and not everyone can do it - just like not everyone can be 18 and own a company,″ Haney said.
Joseph N. Stephenitch, who taught Haney in business classes at Warren Township High School in suburban Gurnee, said the youth ″has a scary grasp of business.″
Haney’s mother Patricia, 43, also is proud of her son.
″But it does worry me that he’s not with his own age group,″ she said. ″He is missing out on a lot and I hope later on, after he makes his fortune, he doesn’t regret it.″