When we think of famous inventors or great scientists, who could forget men like Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell? However, what about great women inventors – are there any we really know about?
Although women in history have had to overcome many barriers and prejudice when trying to carry out their new ideas, countless significant and historic inventions — ranging from windshield wipers to rocket devices — have, in fact, been invented by women. Over the last couple of centuries, as we’ve dived into the workforce alongside men, women have played an increasingly important part in the advancement of technology, science, and consumer products.
So, who are these mothers of invention and what did they invent? Let’s reflect on the accomplishments of a few of them, and introduce ourselves to a handful of ladies whose inventiveness has helped to influence our world today.
Stephanie Kwolek spent her school days trying to choose whether she should purse her passion for fashion design and fabrics, or her love of science and medicine. She followed a career path of chemistry and eventually patented the bullet proof material Kevlar in 1966 – a material five times stronger than steel.
Game designer Elizabeth Magie patented her own board game called The Landlord’s Game in 1904. Parker Brothers bought Elizabeth Magie’s patent nearly 30 years later for only $500. Monopoly (as we call it today), has grown to be one the most classic board games of all times.
On a snowy trolley tour to New York City in 1903, Mary Anderson spotted drivers stopping to clear their windshields of snow and ice. This inspired her idea for the windshield wiper. She had a difficult time convincing others of the value of her invention, so it was not a commercial success. Her patent lapsed, but her idea was eventually copied and wipers became standard equipment. By 1916, Cadillac was the first to include them in every car model.
The table saw was invented in 1813 by Tabitha Babbitt, a weaver and a member of the Shaker community. She set out to make a circular saw, one that would replace the two-handled saw in the lumberyard. To do this, she created a prototype and attached it to her spinning wheel. She never patented her invention, but it was quickly put to use in the saw mills.
Although she was only a 15 years old girl when her grandfather passed away from cancer, this event inspired Gertrude Belle Elion to pursue a pharmaceutical career that would allow her to eventually develop a leukemia fighting drug. As a young woman she faced fifteen rejections to various graduate schools because of her gender. But in 1988, among other distinctions, she was awarded the Nobel Prize.
The “Sun Queen”, biophysicist Maria Telkes, is recognized as one of the world’s leading pioneers in solar energy research. One of her many celebrated inventions is her design of the first ever residential solar heating system.
We salute Admiral Grace Murray Hopper for her development of the first compiler, which translates English commands into computer code. She also oversaw the development of one of the first computer programming languages (COBOL).
Donna Shirley is a former manager of the Mars Exploration Program and NASA aerospace engineer. She led the team responsible for building the Rover for the Mars Pathfinder Mission, which landed on Mars in 1997.
“I got my start by giving myself a start.” If you truly want to be inspired, read more about African American inventor Madam C. J. Walker. Born on the cotton plantations of the South, by age eight she was orphaned, and then by age twenty she was a widow. As an uneducated single-mother working as a washwoman, she began marketing beauty and hair products for black women. In doing so she became the first woman self-made millionaire. She overcame every obstacle to become a highly successful businesswoman, philanthropist, and activist.
It probably comes as no surprise that the brassiere, disposable diapers, the dishwasher, and fabric Scotchguard (not to mention a personal favorite, chocolate chip cookies) are a few more inventions that women can take credit for. After all, tossed into a gorgeous handbag these items could make up the perfect woman’s survival kit!
Women are impressive inventors who have made wonderful discoveries and ingenious developments. As we can see, sometimes average people achieve great success through simple determination and motivation. No matter what your talent, education or expertise may be, remember the two key elements to success: perseverance and passion.
What can you do to inspire enthusiasm and ingenuity in the year ahead? Will you allow anything to stop you?
Image of Stephanie Kwolek via Dupont on One Thing New