What do windshield wipers, non-reflective glass, dishwashers, coffee makers, Kevlar, chocolate chip cookies, brassieres, CCTV, car heaters, fire escapes, ice cream makers and square bottom paper bags have in common? They were all invented by women. National Women Inventors Month is the perfect time to remember their contributions.
Though usually not as well-known as their male counterparts, women have been busily creating things to make like safer and easier for all. Let me feature a few.
In 1910 Mary Phelps Jacob — later known as Caresse Crosby— decided she was sick of her bulky, uncomfortable corset, and created the first bra out of two handkerchieves and some ribbons. She received a patent in 1914 and founded the Fashion Form Brassière Company to manufacture and sell her invention. As biography.com says, “women have literally breathed easier ever since.”
Margaret Knight (b. 1838) was sometimes called the lady Edison because she was so prolific with inventing things. Her first invention was a safety device for textile looms, after seeing a fellow worker injured by faulty equipment. She got her first patent in 1871 for a machine that cut, folded and glued flat-bottomed paper shopping bags, thus eliminating the need for workers to assemble them slowly by hand. All told, she received 27 patents.
Melitta Bentz (b. 1873) created the machine that became the coffee maker, using a filter system she invented. She received her patent in 1908, and founded a company that still exists today.
Katharine Burr Blodgett (b. 1898) was the first woman to receive a Ph.D in physics at England’s Cambridge University. She did a lot of work for the military during World War I, but the invention that has helped the most people is creating non-reflective glass, sometimes called invisible glass. Today it is used for computer screens, car windshields, and eye glasses.
Stephanie Kwolek (b. 1923) was a chemist working with synthetic fibers. She developed a new fiber which her employer DuPont turned into Kevlar, most well-known for bullet-proof vests, but is also found in work-gloves, sports equipment, fiber-optic cables and building materials.
There are so many others: Mary Anderson who patented the equipment that allowed the invention of windshield wipers, Josephine Cochran who created the first dishwasher, Bessie Nesmith Graham, who invented white out, for which those of us who typed papers before computers thank her profusely, Ruth Wakefield, who invented chocolate chip cookies – the world owes her a great debt! – and my own personal hero, Grace Hopper who created the first computer language that could be easily used by humans, COBOL, as well as being credited for inventing the term “bug” for computer problems, though that’s probably apocryphal.
Creative women, I salute you today!
Quotes by some of the women inventors above
Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one’s superiors; care for one’s crew.–Grace Murray Hoppe
If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.–Grace Murray Hopper
I hope I’m saving lives. There are very few people in their careers that have the opportunity to do something to benefit mankind.–Stephanie Kwolek
I didn’t have a fellow at the time, so I had to do it all myself. I had to … appreciate that as a woman, I was strong, complete, adequate.–Bessie Nesmith Graham
If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself.–Josephine Cochran
I couldn’t get men to do the things I wanted in my way until they had tried and failed on their own. …they insisted on having their own way with my invention until they convinced themselves my way was the better, no matter how I had arrived at it.–Josephine Cochran
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