When you think of inventors, how often does a woman’s name come up in your mind? Women have been side-lined in the making of history and in the telling of it. It is only fair to honour these creative and intelligent minds for their contributions to society. So, read on to discover women from almost every corner of the world who have invented things that we just cannot do without today.
Who: Mesopotamian women
When: 1800 BC
Author Jane Peyton claims that beer was invented by ancient Mesopotamian women. They were the first to develop, drink, and sell, beer. While the first written beer recipe is considered to be the Hymn to Ninkasi (Sumerian goddess of beer), circa 1800 BC, beer itself predates that recipe. Archaeologists have placed its first consumption at roughly 9,000 years ago. Both the Sumerians and Egyptians worshipped beer goddesses and associated brewing with women.
Who: Jeanne Villepreux-Power
A French naturalist, Jeanne was trying to prove that the Paper Nautilus - a type of octopus - grows its own shell. She invented a glass aquarium to observe this creature for an extended period of time and learn of its behaviour.
What: Ice Cream Freezer
Who: Nancy Johnson
At the time, ice cream was made using a 'pot freezer' method. This was time consuming and lead to lumpy ice cream. Johnson created a device that used hand-cranked spatulas inside a cylinder to scrape ice crystals from the walls of the cooled container. She later patented the design which is still used today for making ice cream by hand.
What: Flat Bottom Paper Bags
Who: Margaret Knightwood
While working in a paper bag plant, Margaret Knightwood came up with the idea of a machine that could fold and glue paper to form the flat-bottomed brown paper bags we use today. She fought against a man who tried to patent the idea before her and won the case. The machine invented by her is still used today.
Who: Ellen Fitz
A tutor in Canada, Ellen Fitz designed a globe mount that could display the earth's daily rotation in correlation with the path of the sun not only by day and night but also throughout the year.
What: Life Raft
Who: Maria Beasley
Beasley had already made a fortune on a barrel-hooping machine patent but this serial inventor went on to also design an improved foldable life raft for easy storage with guard rails that were fireproof. Her invention was used on the Titanic and saved over 700 lives.
What: Alphabet Blocks
Who: Adeline DT Whitney
Growing up, we all have had our set of alphabet blocks to play with. These were invented by a woman from Massachusetts, Adeline DT Whitney, who was also a prolific poet and writer.
What: Windshield Wiper
Who: Mary Anderson
It is impossible for us to imagine cars without windshield wipers. But there existed a world without one. While riding a streetcar, Anderson watched the conductor repeatedly reach through his side window to clear snow and sleet from the windshield by hand. This made her design a wiper operated by handle. But the invention proved unsuccessful with car companies who believed this would distract drivers. Anderson never profited from her invention, even when the wipers later became standard for all cars. She did, finally, get some posthumous credit in 2011 when she was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame.
Who: Elizabeth Magie
A game played by generations around the globe had its rules invented by Magie who wanted to demonstrate the problems of capitalism. Her design was called The Landlord’s Game and patented in 1904. A man named Charles Darrow is often credited with creating this popular board game that was published in 1935 by the Parker Brothers who discovered that Darrow was not the sole creator and had, for just $500 (£385), bought Magie's patent and, well, monopolised the game.
What: Retractable Dog Leash
Who: Mary A Delaney
An American inventor, Delaney received a patent for her invention of the retractable dog leash. Her invention was aimed to ease the life of dog owners. It attached to the collar, keeping pooches under control, while giving them some freedom to roam.
What: Chocolate Chip Cookies
Who: Ruth Wakefield
These gooey goodies were accidentally invented by Ruth Wakefield when she ran out of baker's chocolate while baking a batch of Butterdrop Do (their OG name) cookies for her guests. She imagined they would melt into the butter but instead, this classic dessert was born.
What: Wireless Transmission Technology
Who: Hedy Lamarr
Lamarr was an Austrian actress famous for her beauty and performances . She was also an inventor who invented a system of wireless communication called 'spread spectrum' to fight the Nazis during the Second World War. This technology was later used as the foundation for modern Wi-Fi and mobile phones.
What: Disposable Diapers
Who: Marion Donovan
Donovan changed parenting forever with ‘Boater’. The waterproof diaper cover, originally made with a shower curtain, was first sold at Saks Fifth Avenue. She sold the patent to the Keko Corporation for $1 million and then created an entirely disposable model a few years later. Pampers was born in 1961.
Also read: Does History Remember These Women?
What: Invisible Glass
Who: Katharine Burr Blodgett
A chemist by profession, she invented 'invisible' glass by adding layers of film to both sides of a sheet of glass until the visible light reflected by the layers cancelled that of the glass. This unique technology is now used in windshields, movie cameras, and even computer screens.
What: Computer Software
Who: Grace Hopper
After joining the US Navy during the Second World War, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was assigned to work on a new computer, called the Mark 1. It wasn't long before she was at the forefront of computer programming in the 1950s. She was the face behind the compiler which could translate instructions into code for computers to read, making programming quicker and ultimately revolutionising how computers worked.
Who: Stephanie Kwolek
Kwolek created synthetic fibres of exceptional strength and stiffness, known as Kevlar. This material, which is five times stronger than steel, is now used in manufacturing bulletproof jackets as well as boats, airplanes, ropes, and cables. It can also be found in products ranging from household gloves and mobiles phones to suspension bridges.
What: Home Security System & CCTV
Who: Marie Van Brittan Brown
A nurse, who was often home alone, Brown came up with an idea that would make her feel safer. Along with her husband Albert, she developed the first home security system in response to the rising crime rates and slow police responses of the 1960s.
What: Caller ID & Call Waiting
Who: Dr Shirley Ann Jackson
An American theoretical physicist, her breakthrough in telecommunications also enabled others to invent the portable fax, fibre optic cables, and solar cells. She is the first African-American woman to acquire a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lead a top-ranked research university.
What: Stem Cell Isolation
Who: Ann Tsukamoto
Her patent was awarded in 1991 and since then Tsukamoto's work has led to great advancements in understanding the blood systems of cancer patients, which could lead to a cure for the disease. Tsukamoto is currently conducting further research into stem cell growth and is the co-patentee on several other inventions.
(Edited by Varsha Roysam)