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November 25, 2016

Here Are 16 Women Who Changed the World With Their Genius Inventions

When we talk of inventors, the first people who come to mind are Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. Naturally, most people assume that with the exception of Madame Marie Curie, most big inventors were all men. But many women have also contributed groundbreaking ideas to science, technology, and our daily lives. Here are 16 female inventors whose innovations, both large and small, have improved our world in various ways.

1. Adeline Dutton Train Whitney (1824 – 1906)

Invention: Alphabet Blocks
Year: 1882

Adeline Dutton Train Whitney was an American poet and prolific writer who published more than 20 books for girls. Her books expressed a traditional view of women's roles and were popular throughout her life.

Adeline was educated at private schools; she studied at the school of George B. Emerson in Boston from 1837 to 1842. Her cousin George Francis Train was a successful entrepreneur, a founder of the Union Pacific Railroad, and an adventurer, making three round-the-world trips.

Adeline Whitney started writing seriously in her thirties, after her children started school. She first published poems and stories in local journals. In 1859, she published her first book, Mother Goose for Grown Folks. She wrote mainly for young girls and supported conservative values. She promoted the message of the era that a woman's happiest place is in the home, the source of all goodness. As this was popular among parents, her books sold extremely well throughout her life.

Whitney privately opposed women's suffrage, and took no part in public life (in accordance with the traditional approach for women expressed in her books.) She patented a set of alphabet blocks for children.

2. Virginia Apgar (1909 – 1974)

Invention: Apgar tests, which evaluate a baby’s health upon birth
Year: 1952

Virginia Apgar was an American obstetrical anesthesiologist. She was a leader in the fields of anesthesiology and teratology, and introduced obstetrical considerations to the established field of neonatology.

In 1949, Apgar became the first woman to become a full professor at CUCPS, where she remained until 1959. During this time, she also did clinical and research work at the affiliated Sloane Hospital for Women. In 1953, she introduced the first test, called the Apgar score, to assess the health of newborn babies. The Apgar score is calculated based on an infant's condition at one minute and five minutes after birth. If the five-minute Apgar score is low, additional scores may be assigned every five minutes.

3. Ruth Wakefield (1903 – 1977)

Invention: Chocolate-chip cookies
Year: 1930

Chocolate chip cookies are a favorite treat for people of all ages, but without the famous woman inventor Ruth Wakefield, the world might never have tasted those sweet delights. Born in 1905, Wakefield grew up to be a dietician and food lecturer after graduating from the Framingham State Normal School Department of Household Arts in 1924. Along with her husband Kenneth, she bought a tourist lodge named the Toll House Inn, where she prepared the recipes for meals that were served to guests.

In 1930, Wakefield was mixing a batch of cookies for her roadside inn guests when she discovered that she was out of baker's chocolate. She substituted broken pieces of Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate, expecting it to melt and absorb into the dough to create chocolate cookies. That didn't happen, but the surprising result helped to make Ruth Wakefield one of the 20th century's most famous women inventors. When she removed the pan from the oven, Wakefield realized that she had accidentally invented "chocolate chip cookies."

4. Tabitha Babbitt (1779 – about 1853)

Invention: Circular saw
Year: 1813

When one thinks of construction and woodworking they imagine big burly men with hammers and saws, sweating while they work in the hot sun. In the early 1800’s it required two men to work a saw, going back and forth, exerting a lot of energy and using lots of muscle. But the fascinating thing is, thanks to a woman, this process has become much simpler. A Shaker woman by the name of Tabitha Babbitt created the circular saw in 1813. By making the saw circular, the teeth could always be cutting, unlike the straight saws of the time, that only cut on the pull, not the push motion.

5. Josephine Cochran (1839 – 1913)

Invention: Dishwasher
Year: 1886

Josephine Cochrane believed that if you want something done right you better do it yourself. But when it came time to doing the dishes, she really didn’t want to, so she invented a machine to wash them for her.

Josephine Cochran was born to Irene and John Garis in March of 1839. She joined a family of ingenuity and creative talents. For example, her father John used his skills as a civil engineer in Chicago during the 1850s. Furthermore, her great grandfather John Fitch invented the steamboat. Josephine's own pursuits as an inventor began after she married a businessman named William Cochran. She and William often enjoyed welcoming many guests into their Illinois home for formal dinners. Josephine began to notice chips in her beloved collection of china. The process of hand washing the china was beginning to take its toll on her valuable dishes. Josephine felt sure that there had to be a way of washing the dishes without damaging them. So, with the help of a mechanic friend she went to work in her backyard shed to develop a better process for cleaning dishes.

Josephine envisioned a process that used jets of hot water and soap to clean the dishes as opposed to hand scrubbing them. After they were cleaned, the dishes would need to be rinsed with hot water. In addition, a rack would be necessary to hold the dishes in place so that they would be cleaned in a safe and thorough fashion. Another type of dishwashing machine was patented in 1850, but it was operated with a hand crank. Josephine Cochran's dishwashing machine had a motor operating it. While creating her dishwashing machine, Josephine suffered the loss of her husband William. Unfortunately, she was also left with some debts to pay. Despite these challenges, Josephine finished the design of her invention and had it patented in 1886.

6. Marion Donovan (1917 – 1998)

Invention: Disposable diaper
Year: 1951

Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1917, Marion Donovan was instilled with an inventive spirit at a young age. She spent the greater part of her childhood hanging around the manufacturing plant run by her father and uncle, two men who combined to invent, among other things, an industrial lathe for grinding automobile gears and gun barrels.

Years later, as a post-World War II housewife and mother of two in Connecticut, Donovan would make good use of the ingenuity that she had observed in her youth. Frustrated by the thankless, repetitive task of changing her youngest child's soiled cloth diapers, bed sheets and clothing, she decided to craft a diaper cover to keep her baby – and the surrounding area – dry. Donovan sat down at her sewing machine with a shower curtain and, after several attempts, she completed a waterproof diaper cover.

Unlike the rubber baby pants that were already on the market, Donovan's design did not cause diaper rash and did not pinch the child's skin. The soon-to-be famous female inventor subsequently perfected her invention, adding snap fasteners in place of the dangerous safety pins that were commonly used. Donovan named her diaper cover the "Boater" and explained that "at the time I thought that it looked like a boat."

When no manufacturers would even consider her invention, Donovan struck out on her own, and the Boater was an unqualified success from the day it debuted at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1949. Donovan received a patent in 1951 and promptly sold the rights to Keko Corporation.

7. Ida Forbes

Invention: Electric hot water heater
Year: 1917

Imagine during winter and even those colder mornings, you had to take a bath with the freezing cold water without any form of heating or warming? Not cool right?

Unfortunately for you and the future generations this problem was well taken care of by a remarkable great woman, Ida Forbes when she invented the electric water heater in 1917 making it easier to take and enjoy a bath. She gave people the chance to get away from gas and other sources of water heat sources for the first time.

8. Mary Walton (1827 – ?)

Invention: Elevated railway
Year: 1881

Mary Walton, an independent inventor, was not one to stand idly by choking on the smog that the factories produced during the Industrial Revolution. In 1879, Mary patented a device that minimized the smoke that was pouring into the air. It was designed to deflect the emissions into water tanks where they were later flushed into the cities' sewage system.

While living in Manhattan, Mary was particularly concerned with the pollution. After cleaning up the air, she moved onto the noise pollution that seemed to fill the air as well as the heads of New Yorkers. Working in her basement, Walton built a model train set and began working to cut down on the clanging of the trolleys. She built a wooden box, painted it with tar, lined it with cotton, and filled it with sand. The vibration from the rails was absorbed.

On February 8, 1891, after putting her invention under the struts that supported the city trains, she received a patent for her work. She gave the city some peace of mind by selling the rights of her patent to the New York City Metropolitan railroad.

9. El Dorado Jones (1860 – 1932)

Invention: Engine muffler
Year: 1923

“The only way to get along is to seek the difficult job, always do it well, and see that you get paid for it properly. Oh yes, and don’t forget to exploit men all you can. Because if you don’t, they will exploit you!” said El Dorado Jones. She opposed the opposite gender and never had much use for men employing only women over 40 in her company. She invented the light-weight iron consisting of a traveling ironing board (with a compartment for a flatiron), and a collapsible hat rack. She marketed her inventions to women. Her company, Eldorado Inventions Inc. was successful and many businessmen made buy-out offers but she refused to sell out to a man.

Jones famously invented the ‘airplane muffler’ and moved to New York to find a financial backer for it. The concept was similar to an automobile muffler, and when she tested it at New York’s Roosevelt Field, the New York Times reported that her device could have an influence on the future of American aeronautics. She received her patent in 1923.

10. Anna Connelly (1858 – 1943)

Invention: Fire escape
Year: 1887

It’s hard to imagine a time before fire safety. In 1887, Anna Connelly decided to create something that would prevent the deaths of many in multistory buildings. She patented the exterior fire escape—which was actually a fire escape bridge surrounded by a railing with openings at the ends. The bridge allowed the safe escape from one building to the next during a fire.

11. Sarah Boone (1832 – 1904)

Invention: Ironing board
Year: 1892

Sarah Boone was an African American inventor who on April 26, 1892, obtained United States patent rights for her improvements to the ironing board. Boone's ironing board was designed to improve the quality of ironing sleeves and the bodies of women's garments. The board was very narrow, curved, and made of wood. The shape and structure allowed it to fit a sleeve and it was reversible, so one could iron both sides of the sleeve.

12. Stephanie Kwolek (1923 – 2014)

Invention: Kevlar, a steel-like fiber used in radial tires, crash helmets, and bulletproof vests
Year: 1965

Stephanie Kwolek is the chemist who invented Kevlar in 1965.

She started working as a chemist in 1946 just to earn enough money to go to medical school, to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a doctor. She soon fell in love with the work, though, which combined her interests in science and textiles.

One of very few female chemists working at Dupont, Stephanie was passionate about discovering new ways of working with synthetic fibers. She volunteered in 1964 for a project none of her colleagues seemed interested in: searching for a strong but lightweight fiber to use in tires.

While experimenting, Stephanie created a strange solution that was very different from ones she’d created before. It should have been a clear, thick fluid, like nylon polymer, but instead was thin and cloudy. “I think someone who wasn’t thinking very much or just wasn’t aware or took less interest in it, would have thrown it out.” But her curiousity and passion for discovery won out.

The next step in the process of creating fibers from this solution required a machine called a spinneret, which was run by her coworker Charles Smullen. At first, he refused to spin the solution, thinking it would harm the machine. After much persuasion, Stephanie convinced him to run her solution.

They were amazed when the new fiber came back: it would not break when nylon typically would, and had a stiffness at least nine times greater than anything she’d made before! She and her supervisors immediately recognized the significance of her discovery, and the company set to work creating applications for this incredible new fiber.

13. Bette Nesmith Graham (1924 – 1980)

Invention: Liquid Paper®, a quick-drying liquid used to correct mistakes printed on paper
Year: 1951

One December, in 1951, Bette Nesmith Graham invented Liquid Paper.

Graham was a single mother working as an executive secretary for the chairman of the board at the Texas Bank and Trust in Dallas. She’d risen to becoming executive secretary after impressing her bosses with her spirit; they even sent her to secretarial school to become a bona fide typist.

Trouble was, Graham wasn’t exactly a very good typist.

As anyone who binge-watched Mad Men will know, 1950s-era secretaries spent much of their time typing correspondence and other letters for executives. And a single minor typo had the power to destroy a lot of valuable time and effort.

In Graham’s case, her office had just switched over to the electric typewriter, which meant that, in theory, erasing mistakes was supposed to be simpler. But every time Graham attempted to cover up a mistake with her new electric typewriter, she would leave behind a mess.

That Christmas, Graham idly looked out the window to the bank across the street. She noticed a man painting a sign in the bank’s storefront. Any time he made a mistake, he’d simply run a streak of paint matching the background over the error to hide it.

In a moment of ingenuity, Graham mixed up some white, water-based tempera paint at home in her kitchen blender. The next day, she brought the paint solution and a slender paintbrush to her office and put the concoction to work, painting over mistakes, letting them air-dry briefly, then typing the correct letter(s) over them. Et voila: Her mistakes were perfectly hidden.

Graham called her invention Mistake Out, and when her fellow secretaries got word of Graham’s ingenious solution, Mistake Out became an office phenomenon. But Graham didn’t think to sell her product for five years. Despite working nights and weekends with her son (and future member of the Monkees), Michael Nesmith, to fill up bottles in their garage, she barely broke even.

But demand spiked as her product became a notorious lifesaver for secretaries. In 1956, she coordinated a team to further develop Mistake Out—an office supply dealer, her son’s chemistry teacher, and a paint manufacturer— developing what then became Liquid Paper.

14. Margaret Knight (1838 – 1914)

Invention: Paper-bag-making machine
Year: 1871

Received first patent in 1868; obtained at least 25 more patents over her lifetime. Margaret Knight has been called "the most famous 19th-century woman inventor".

She was born in York, Maine to James Knight and Hannah Teal. James Knight died when Margaret was a little girl. Knight went to school until she was twelve and worked in a cotton mill between ages 12 through 1856. In 1868, while living in Springfield, Massachusetts, Knight invented a machine that folded and glued paper to form the flat bottomed brown paper bags familiar to shoppers today.

Knight built a wooden model of the device, but needed a working iron model to apply for a patent. Charles Annan, who was in the machine shop where Knight's iron model was being built, stole her design and patented the device. Knight filed a successful patent interference lawsuit and was awarded the patent in 1871. With a Massachusetts business man, Knight established the Eastern Paper Bag Co. and received royalties.

Her many other inventions included a numbering machine, window frame and sash, patented in 1894, and several devices relating to rotary engines, patented between 1902 and 1915. Knight's original bag-making machine is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.. Margaret never got married and died on October 12, 1914 at the age of 76.

15. Florence Parpart

Invention: Refrigerator
Year: 1914

As you pick out that cold water bottle or your favorite drink and take a sip of of it and feel cooled or relaxed. do you ever wonder who came up with a such a brilliant idea? How would life be without the modern refrigerator? Probably you would go back to ice boxes?

In 1914, Florence Parpart won a second patent for the modern refrigerator, rendering the icebox obsolete for those with access to electricity. Many believe that Parpart’s then fiancée was highly skilled in electrical circuitry and assisted in the design of the first prototype.

Already an experienced entrepreneur, Parpart was highly successful in marketing and selling her refrigerators. She attended multiple trade shows, developed her own advertising campaigns and managed the production operations, alongside her husband, of additional refrigerators. Parpart was a true female entrepreneur and gifted inventor.

16. Mary Anderson (1866 – 1953)

Invention: Windshield wiper
Year: 1903

One frosty day in 1903, Mary Anderson (1866-1953), a native of Birmingham, Alabama, was visiting New York City via a trolley car. She was trying to catch all the sights of the city’s crowded streets, tall buildings, and horseless carriages, but she had a hard time seeing them because of the snowy weather.

Mary noticed that the driver was also having difficulty seeing through the sleet and snow. Every few minutes, the driver would have to reach through his window to wipe the snow and sleet off the windshield by hand. Sometimes he would even have to stick his head out the window while driving in order to see! Forgetting about the sights around her, Mary started thinking about how the driver could stay warm inside the vehicle without worrying about the snow piling up on his windshield.

As soon as she went back home, she started working out her idea for the first windshield wipers. Mary Anderson envisioned a device that would attach to the outside of the car, with a long spring-loaded arm with a rubber blade. The driver could turn a handle from inside the vehicle to move the arm and wipe the snow off the windshield, without having to stick his hand out in the freezing weather.

Mary filed for a patent for the first windshield wipers in 1903, and tried to sell her device to several companies, who all rejected her invention. At first, people didn’t see the value of her invention and thought it would just distract drivers. Mary was ahead of her time; in the early 20th century many cars didn’t go fast enough to even need windshields, and outside major cities few people even owned cars. Car safety didn’t really become a priority until the 1950s (when safer brakes and seatbelts were invented).

Mary Anderson’s invention was forgotten, until her patent lapsed and others were able to copy her idea. By the 40s and 50s, when cars were much more common and affordable, windshield wipers were standard on most vehicles, and they’re now usually a legal requirement.


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