While loading her dishwasher one night, a WYSK staffer offered a silent “thank you” to its unknown inventor for saving her time and effort, along with the skin on her hands. In a twist of unbelievable serendipity, she then sat down to watch How It’s Made on the Science Channel and nearly fell off her chair when she realized the episode was all about Josephine Cochrane, the WOMAN who invented the dishwasher.
This got us thinking about other women inventors and what life changing or saving products they have brought into the world. Sadly, we could not come up with a single name. None of us could recall EVER being taught about women inventors in school. So, we are righting that wrong today.
As it turns out, Josephine, who received her patent for the first working dishwasher in 1886, didn’t spend that much time washing dishes herself. The real impetus for the socialite’s invention was frustration over her servants chipping and breaking her heirloom china compliments of their harsh hand washing following her fancy dinners. Whatever the reason, we appreciate her ingenuity and creative spirit.
According to the site Fact Monster, we’ll probably never really know how many women inventors there were. That’s because until the late 1800’s laws prevented women in most states from owning property or entering into legal agreements in their own names. Instead, a woman’s property would be in the name of her father or husband.
This law carried over into the world of patents or intellectual “property” as well. For example, many people believe that Sybilla Masters was the first American woman inventor. In 1712, after observing how Native American women processed corn into cornmeal, she developed a new mill to grind corn, but was denied a patent because she was a woman. Three years later the patent was filed successfully under her husband’s name, Thomas.
Mary Kies was the first American woman to earn a patent in her own name. In 1809, she developed a way of weaving straw into hats that was an economic boon for New England. By receiving that piece of paper with her name on it, Kies led the way for other female inventors to take credit for their ideas.
Other Mothers Of Invention
Here is a rundown of some other ingenious inventions and the women behind them. Some of the stories of how certain items came to be are really interesting.
Chocolate Chip Cookies – Ruth Wakefield (1930)
In addition to unintentionally creating this iconic American cookie (she ran out of bakers chocolate when baking cookies for her guests at her “toll house” inn and restaurant, so in a pinch she crumbled a Nestle chocolate bar into pieces and threw it into her batter… the chocolate didn’t melt as she expected it to and the chocolate chip cookie was born), Ruth caused a surge in Nestle chocolate bar sales and the eventual development of Nestle Toll House Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels (1939). Full story: How Stuff Works.
Colored Flare System – Martha Coston (1857)
Widowed in 1847, Martha was only 21 years old. She had four children to support, but she hadn’t a clue about how to do so. She was flipping through her dead husband’s notebooks when she found plans for a flare system that ships could use to communicate at night. Martha perfected the system and the U.S. Navy bought the rights and used the Coston colored flare system extensively during the Civil War. Martha was owed $120,000, of which she was sadly only paid $15,000 by the Navy. Some say the reason she was short changed was because she was a woman. Full story: How Stuff Works
Windshield Wiper – Mary Anderson (1903)
On a trip to New York City, this woman from Alabama would end up inventing something that has become standard on every automobile and most other vehicles. During her trip, Anderson took a tram through the snow-covered city. The driver had to stop the tram every few minutes to wipe the snow off his front window. At the time, all drivers had to do so. When she returned home, Anderson developed a squeegee on a spindle that was attached to a handle on the inside of the vehicle. Full story: How Stuff Works
Circular Saw – Tabitha Babbitt (1812)
Tabitha observed men cutting wood with a pit saw, which is a two-handled saw that requires two men to pull it back and forth. Though the saw is pulled both ways, it only cuts wood when it’s pulled forward; the return stroke is useless. To Babbitt, that was wasted energy, so she created a prototype of the circular saw that would go on to be used in saw mills. She attached a circular blade to her spinning wheel so that every movement of the saw produced results. Full story: How Stuff Works
Liquid Paper® – Bessie Nesmith (1958)
Bette Nesmith Graham was not a very good typist. Her idea of a more efficient way to correct typing blunders rather than retyping entire pages came from watching workers painting a holiday display on a bank window… they would fix mistakes by layering more paint on. So, she mixed up a water-based tempera paint with dye that matched her company’s stationary and using a fine watercolor brush, she was able to quickly correct her errors. Graham was fired from her job for spending so much time distributing what she called “Mistake Out”. Unemployment gave her the time she needed to refine her product and get it patented in 1958. Full story: How Stuff Work
The Compiler and COBOL Computer Language – Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (1950s)
She joined the military in 1943 and was stationed at Harvard University, where she worked on IBM’s Harvard Mark I computer, the first large-scale computer in the United States. She was the third person to program this computer, and she wrote a manual of operations that lit the path for those that followed her. In the 1950s, among other important advancements in computer technology, Admiral Hopper also invented the compiler, which translates English commands into computer code. This device meant that programmers could create code more easily and with fewer errors. Full story: How Stuff Works
But wait… there’s more:
Alphabet Blocks – Adeline D. T. Whitney (1882)
Apgar Tests, which evaluate a baby’s health upon birth – Virginia Apgar (1952)
Disposable Diaper – Marion Donovan (1950)
Electric Hot Water Heater – Ida Forbes (1917)
Elevated Railway – Mary Walton (1881)
Engine Muffler – El Dorado Jones (1917)
Fire Escape – Anna Connelly (1887)
Globes – Ellen Fitz (1875)
Ironing Board – Sarah Boone (1892)
Kevlar, which is a steel-like fiber used in radial tires, crash helmets, and bulletproof vests – Stephanie Kwolek (1966)
Life Raft – Maria Beaseley (1882)
Medical Syringe – Letitia Geer (1899)
Rolling Pin – Catherine Deiner (1891)
Scotchgard™ fabric protector – Patsy O. Sherman (1956)
Snugli® Baby Carrier – Ann Moore (1965)
Square Bottom Paper-Bag-Making Machine – Margaret Knight (1871)
Street Cleaning Machine – Florence Parpart (1900)
Submarine Lamp and Telescope – Sarah Mather (1845)