What Did Women Invent?

I find that my children constantly push my creativity and my curiosity. As adults we tend to get into the process of going with the flow, not questioning status quo in our daily lives and find ourselves saying “that’s just how things are”. Thinking out the box seems to be something that we tend to think about as a selling point when we are job hunting.

The more time I spend around children, both mine and other children I realize that they ask questions both to understand and to challenge what they observe. When children are encouraged to ask questions (note to parents never say “Keep quiet you ask too many questions”) they learn and they tend to get answers they need, google it, or create their own solution.

It was during one of these curiosity conversations that we started discussing who invented cars? Who invented trains? Suddenly my daughter quite exasperated commented that it seem that it is only men who invent. She asked “what did women invent”? I brought up the first one that popped into my head, I asked “you know spanks right…a woman invented that” I said. They were like, yes that thing that women wear to look smaller right?

Later on I remembered another example and said “oh yes, a woman also invented the hair relaxer”. Here I was thinking I had made a good show of women inventors only for my daughter to say…”of course a woman invented relaxers”. “Do women only invent things that only they can use?” didn’t they also invent other things that all people can use? Like to go to places or something”? Ouch! I felt like that was a personal jab at women and so I promised her to find other things that women invented.

So from my fact finding mission here are some women inventors I found – What did women invent?

1. Margaret knight

She invented safety device for textile looms and a machine that cut, folded and glued paper shopping bags together which eliminated the need for a person to have to do each step by hand.

Also, she invented other things like shoe making machines and sweat guards to protect clothes from perspiration and a rotary engine and an internal combustion engine. She was quite an inventor receiving 27 patents in her lifetime.

2. Caresse Crosby (Mary Phelps Jacob)  –

She invented what we call bras today (yes this is only for use by women but good to know)

3. Katherine Burr Blodgett –

She invented non-reflective glass. She was also the first woman to receive a PHD in physics at Cambridge University. Today non-reflective glass is still relevant and used in eyeglasses, car windscreens and computer screens.

3. Stephanie Kwolek –

She invented a new synthetic fibre that today is used as fibre optics cable, bulletproof vests, building materials and has many other uses.

4. Barbara Askins

She returned to school after having children to receive a bachelors and master degree in chemistry, she went on to invent a way for pictures from space to be clearer. This has gone on to be used in clearer x-ray pictures and to enhance old photographs. Personally her story is an inspiration – who says having children has to stop you from changing the world or learning, she got her degrees after having children.

5. Ruth Wakefield

She invented what we today call “chocolate chip cookies”

6. Lillian Gilbreth

She improved existing inventions with small, but ingenious, tweaks. In the early 1900s, she designed the shelves inside refrigerator doors, made the can opener easier to use, and tidied up cleaning with a foot pedal trash can. Gilbreth is most famous for her pioneering work in efficiency management and ergonomics with her husband, Frank. Two of their 12 children, Frank Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth, humorously wrote about their home/work collaborations in the book Cheaper by the Dozen.

7. Elizabeth Magie

She created The Landlord’s Game to spread the economic theory of Georgism—teaching players about the unfairness of land-grabbing, the disadvantages of renting, and the need for a single land value tax on owners. Fun stuff! Magie patented the board game in 1904 and self-published it in 1906. Nearly 30 years later, a man named Charles Darrow rejiggered the board design and message and sold it to Parker Brothers as Monopoly. The company bought Magie’s patent for the original game for $500 and no royalties.

8. Mary Anderson

Drivers were skeptical when Mary Anderson invented the first manual windshield wipers in 1903. They thought it was safer to drive with rain and snow obscuring the road than to pull a lever to clear it. (Another woman inventor, Charlotte Bridgwood, invented an automatic version with an electric roller in 1917. It didn’t take off, either.) But by the time Anderson’s patent expired in 1920, windshield wipers were cleaning up. Cadillac was the first to include them in every car model, and other companies soon followed.

9. Josephine Cochraine

She invented the dishwasher. Patented in 1886, the first dishwasher combined high water pressure, a wheel, a boiler, and a wire rack like the ones still used for dish drying. Inventor Josephine Cochrane never used it herself, but it made life easier for her servants.

10. Adeline D.T

Children don’t read books by anti-suffrage author Adeline D.T. Whitney these days—and that’s probably for the better. But the wooden blocks she patented in 1882 still help them learn their ABCs.

11. Tabitha Babbitt

A weaver named Tabitha Babbitt was the first to suggest that lumber workers use a circular saw instead of the two-man pit saw that only cut when pulled forward. She made a prototype and attached it to her spinning wheel in 1813. Babbitt’s Shaker community didn’t approve of filing a patent, but they took full advantage of the invention.

12. Mary A. Delaney

New York City dog owner Mary A. Delaney patented the first retractable leading device in 1908. It attached to the collar, keeping pooches under control, while giving them some freedom to roam. Incidentally, someone named R.C. O’Connor patented the first child harness 11 years later. Coincidence? Maybe.

13. Sarah E. Goode

Sarah E. Goode’s folding cabinet bed didn’t just maximize space in small homes. In 1885, it made her the first African-American woman with a U.S. patent. The fully functional desk could be used by day and then folded down for a good night’s sleep. The Murphy bed came along some 15 years later.

14. Maria Telke

iophysicist Maria Telkes’s place was in the house—the very first 100 percent solar house. In 1947, the Hungarian scientist invented the thermoelectric power generator to provide heat for Dover House, a wedge-shaped structure she conceived with architect Eleanor Raymond. Telkes used Glauber’s salt, the sodium salt of sulfuric acid, to store heat in preparation for sunless days. Dover House survived nearly three Massachusetts winters before the system failed.

15. Grace Hopper and Howard Aiken

Women in computer science have a role model in Grace Hopper. She and Howard Aiken designed Harvard’s Mark I computer, a five-ton, room-sized machine in 1944. Hopper invented the compiler that translated written language into computer code and coined the terms “bug” and “debugging” when she had to remove moths from the device. In 1959, Hopper was part of the team that developed COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages.

16. Dr Shirley Ann Jackson

Dr Shirley Ann Jackson is an American theoretical physicist, whose research from the 1970s is responsible for caller ID and call waiting. Her breakthroughs in telecommunications have also enabled others to invent the portable fax, fibre optic cables and solar cells.

She is the first African-American woman to gain a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first African-American woman to lead a top-ranked research university.

Compiling this list has been quite eye opening. Do you know any other women inventors? Share with us

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