When we think about important inventions and the people who made them, the first names that come to mind are Thomas Edison or the Wright Brothers. We might not know a lot of female inventors, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important. Sometimes women had to struggle to get patents or deserved credit. For example, Margaret Knight had her idea stolen and fought in court to prove her authorship.
5 Fun Facts wants to share the stories of 20+ incredible women whose inventions we use on a daily basis.
1. Caller ID, Call Waiting — Dr Shirley Ann Jackson
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is a theoretical physicist and the first African American woman to gain a Ph.D. from MIT. Her research carried out in the ’70s is responsible for call waiting and caller ID. Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson’s breakthrough research also helped invent things such as portable fax, fiber optic cables, solar cells, etc.
2. Dishwasher — Josephine Cochrane
Josephine Cochrane wanted to have a device that would wash the dishes faster than those who worked for her and be less likely to break them. So she decided to invent such a machine herself. Josephine patented her invention in 1917 and opened her own factory.
3. Kevlar — Stephanie Kwolek
Stephanie Kwolek was a chemist who discovered the lightweight material that was 5 times stronger than steel in 1965. This invention is widely used in different products such as bullet-proof vests, body armor, household gloves, etc. Kevlar is also found in mobile phones, airplanes, and suspension bridges.
4. The modern bra — Caresse Crosby (born Mary Phelps Jacob)
In 1910, when Mary Phelps Jacob was 19 years old, she was getting ready for a ball. As usual, she put on a corset, but this time it poked out from under her gown. Mary asked her maid to bring her 2 handkerchiefs and a ribbon, and the first simple bra was designed. She patented her invention in 1914.
5. The curling iron — Theora Stephens
Theora Stephens was an African American hairdresser who created a more efficient pressing and curling iron in 1980.
6. The fire escape — Anna Connelly
We don’t know much about Anna Connelly’s life, but we do know that her invention of a fire escape bridge became a precursor to modern fire escapes. Anna patented her creation in 1887 it’s now a crucial part of safety precautions in big cities.
7. The car heater — Margaret A. Wilcox
Margaret A. Wilcox invented the first car heater in 1893. Her invention served as a basis for the modern car heaters that warm us up on cold winter days.
8. Life rafts — Maria Beasley
Maria Beasley came up with a new life raft design that was much safer and better. She patented her invention in 1882. Later, Maria Beasley also patented the barrel-hooping machine that made her really rich.
9. Computer algorithm — Ada Lovelace
Lord Byron’s daughter Ada King-Noel was a brilliant mathematician. Countess Lovelace and Charles Babbage worked together at the University of London on the analytical engine. She developed a way to program the machine using mathematical algorithms. In other words, she made the very first “computer program.”
10. Wireless transmission — Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr was a famous Hollywood actress and an inventor at the same time. During World War II, she and George Antheil invented a radio guidance system to prevent torpedoes from being set off course. Due to technical difficulties, this invention wasn’t used until 1962. Hedy Lamarr’s wireless transmission system contributed to the development of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
11. Central heating — Alice Parker
Alice Parker was an inventor who designed a gas-powered central heating system in 1919. Although her particular design was never built, it was the breakthrough idea that inspired modern central heating systems.
12. Scotchgard — Patsy Sherman
Patsy Sherman was an American chemist and a co-inventor of Scotchgard. While working at the 3M corporation, she accidentally spilled a fluorochemical rubber on an assistant’s shoe. Later, they found out that the stain didn’t change the color of the shoe and repelled water, oil, etc. This accident was the beginning of the Scotchgard invention.
13. The windscreen wiper — Mary Anderson
When Mary Anderson visited New York in 1903, she noticed that her driver had to open the window and remove the snow from the windscreen with his hands. It was inconvenient for both the driver and the passengers, and it was also dangerous. Mary Anderson wanted to come up with a solution, and in 1903, she invented the windscreen wiper. Unfortunately, car companies didn’t believe in Mary’s invention and she never profited from it.
14. Computer software — Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper was an American computer scientist and the US Navy rear admiral. She invented the compiler which translated written language into computer code. Grace Hopper coined the terms “bug” and “debugging.” In 1959, she participated in the development of one of the first modern programming languages — COBOL.
15. Space station batteries — Olga D. Gonzalez-Sanabria
Olga .D Gonzalez-Sanabria is a Puerto Rican scientist and inventor. In the ’80s, she developed technology that helped in the creation of the long cycle-life nickel-hydrogen battery. These batteries helped provide the International Space Station with power.
16. The paper bag — Margaret Knight
In 1867, Margaret Knight worked at a paper bag factory where she noticed that women had to glue by hand envelope-style paper to be flat-bottomed. It was really inconvenient and time-consuming and that’s why Margaret Knight decided to design a machine that could make flat-bottomed paper bags. She patented her invention in 1879.
17. Monopoly — Elizabeth Magie
Elizabeth Magie originally invented the rules of this popular board game. She wanted to demonstrate the problems of capitalism while playing a game. The original game was named Landlord’s Game and it was patented in 1924. Monopoly as we know it now was published in 1935 by the Parker Brothers, who bought Elizabeth Magie’s patent.
18. Disposable diapers — Marion Donovan
In 1946, Marion Donovan used a regular shower curtain to create a waterproof diaper cover. She patented her invention in 1949 and later sold the patent to the Keko Corporation for $1 million.
19. Liquid Paper — Bette Nesmith Graham
Bette Nesmith Graham was a secretary, and she often used a white paint to cover up any typing errors in the documents. She spent a few years trying to make the formula perfect and in 1958, she patented Liquid Paper. In 1979, Bette Nesmith Graham sold her invention to the Gillette Corporation for $47.5 million.
20. The circular saw — Tabitha Babbitt
Tabitha Babbitt was a weaver and the first person to suggest using a circular saw instead of a traditional saw which was operated by 2 men. In 1813, she made a prototype and attached it to the spinnng wheel.
21. Solar-heated houses — Dr. Maria Telkes
Dr. Maria Telkes was a physicist and worked on solar energy technologies. In 1947, she invented the thermoelectric power generator to provide heat for Dover House which was designed together with architect Eleanor Raymond. Dover House stood for 3 winters before the system failed.
Did you know that any of these inventions were made by a woman? Let us know what you think in the comments below!