This is another empowering story of a woman who “did it anyway,” regardless of popular beliefs of the day. Katherine Blodgett’s invisible contribution was to the blockbuster film of 1939, “Gone with the Wind,” which went on to win many Academy Awards, including best Cinematography. Audiences were blown away by the film’s crystal-clear picture. It was the first color film shot on a lens made from “invisible” glass, invented by General Electric’s first female research scientist, Katherine Blodgett.
Katherine was the daughter of GE patent attorney who was murdered by a burglar weeks before her birth. As a teenager she showed a natural flair for science and was taken under the wind of her father’s former colleague at GE, physical chemist Irving Langmuir. His encouragement and Katherine’s hard work is how she became the first female scientist hired by GE and the first female to earn a PhD in Physics from Cambridge University. Under Langmuir’s mentorship, her research on how substances stick to each other on a molecular level, created molecular-thick films of oil and other substances on the surface of water. Langmuir won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1932 for the practical application of their work. The films became known as Langmuir-Blodgett films, made up of nearly 3000 single molecule layers which canceled out the reflections from the glass surface making it easier to see through.
In 1938, Blodgett received a patent for the “film structure and method of preparation” invention. GE announce the product as invisible glass. As well as being used for camera and projectors, it soon found many wartime uses, from spy camera’s in planes, to periscopes for submarines. Today her discovery is wide-reaching, non-reflective glass is now used for computer screens, microscopes, eyewear, and windshields. She also received patents for seven other inventions.
Stephanie Kwolek is an American chemist whose research resulted in the invention of Kevlar in 1960, a material five times stronger than steel. Maria Telkes is a physical chemist who developed a solar powered thermoelectric generator to heat a building – the world’s first solar powered house. Nancy Johnson, an American housewife, can be thanked for her hand-cranked ice-cream maker before freezers had been invented. Maria Beasley invented the life rafts used on the Titanic. They were lightweight, fire-proof and relatively easy to launch, helping save many lives.
These are unsung shero’s who did it anyway, used their brains to make all our lives better.
Patents! Mary Dixon Kies from Connecticut received the first patent granted to a woman in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, signed by President James Madison on May 15, 1809. I thought this a good time, 201 years after the fact, to bring this to the forefront of women struggles today, marganalized still, but as my blog posts show, huge steps forward have been made. The Patent Act allowed “any person or persons” to protect their original methods and designs. Dixon Kies had come up with a new technique for weaving straw with a silk thread to make hats. Yes, HATS! Hats were a vital industry. Dolly Madison praised her contribution in helping women in manufacturing. Mary did not get rich and fashion trends soon changed. Even though she died a pauper, her hometown has honored her with a monument.
A simply woman’s bonnet shows that even seemingly unimportant techniques can bring about changes.