A friend recently sent me this link about women inventors. Some of these I knew, but most I hadn’t a clue. Out of necessity, women found better ways to do the things, from common tasks to life saving procedures. Many were able to get patents for their inventions, while many others went to male counterparts. Here are a few I found quite fascinating.
One instance was the simple new invention of a flat squared bottom paper bag. A cotton mill worker named Margaret Knight invented a machine to make such bags in 1868. Previous ones were flat like envelopes. A man named Charles Annan saw her design and tried to patent it before her. Knight filed a lawsuit and won the patent fair and square. His only defense – she was a woman incapable of such a complex notion.
Kevlar: Lightweight, high-tensile Kevlar—five times stronger than steel—will take a bullet for you. DuPont chemist Stephanie Kwolek accidentally invented it while trying to perfect a lighter fiber for car tires and earned a patent in 1966.
Monopoly: Elizabeth Magie created The Landlord’s Game to spread the economic theory of Georgism—teaching players about the unfairness of land-grabbing, the disadvantages of renting, and the need for a single land value tax on owners. Fun stuff! Magie patented the board game in 1904 and self-published it in 1906. Nearly 30 years later, a man named Charles Darrow rejiggered the board design and message and sold it to Parker Brothers as Monopoly. The company bought Magie’s patent for the original game for $500 and no royalties. Name of the game, greed is ever present!
The Apgar Score: Life is a series of tests, starting with the Apgar, named after obstetrical anesthesiologist Dr. Virginia Apgar. In 1952, she began testing newborns one minute and five minutes after birth to determine if they needed immediate care. About 10 years later, the medical community made a backronym—an acronym designed to fit an existing word—to remember the criteria scored: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration…the Apgar Score.
Marine Signal Flares: Communication between ships was once limited to colored flags, lanterns, and screaming things like “Thar she blows!” really loudly. Martha Coston didn’t come up with the idea for signal flares all by herself. She found plans in a notebook that belonged to her late husband. The determined widow spent 10 years working with chemists and pyrotechnics experts to make the idea a reality. But she was only named administratrix in the 1859 patent—Mr. Coston got credited as the inventor. She is however, in the Inventors Hall of Fame, as herself. Not the first time “colored signal flags” have been used…also under the noses of the British occupation during the revolutionary war, with laundry hung near the shoreline, my blog Redcoats and Petticoats.
Invisible Glass: Katharine Blodgett, General Electric’s first female scientist, discovered a way to transfer thin monomolecular coatings to glass and metals in 1935. The result: glass that eliminated glare and distortion, which revolutionized cameras, microscopes, eyeglasses, and more.
Computers: Women in computer science have a role model in Grace Hopper. She and Howard Aiken designed Harvard’s Mark I computer, a five-ton, room-sized machine in 1944. Hopper invented the compiler that translated written language into computer code and coined the terms “bug” and “debugging” when she had to remove moths from the device. In 1959, Hopper was part of the team that developed COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages.
Also listed are more commonly realized inventions that made daily lives easier, such as the automatic dishwasher, Scotchgard, disposable diapers, liquid paper, and windshield wipers. One invention I found quite humorous, the retractable dog leash invented in 1908. Wouldn’t you know, someone came along a decade later and patented the first child harness….a name associated doesn’t give a gender, but I suspect it was a man taking full advantage of an opportunity due to his own life circumstance.