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 teenager 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, he 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) signed next week," said Alofs owner Eugene DeFouw.