The Mothers of Invention - Fun Facts to Know and Tell

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Nobody is Going to be Surprised


Nobody is going to be surprised to learn that a woman invented the first disposable diaper and the dishwasher. Who but a woman would notice these were needs that should be met in a more efficient manner? But did you know it was a woman who invented the bullet-stopping fabric, Kevlar? A woman invented the first commercial computer language and another invented the windshield wiper.

Stephanie Kwolek took a position at DuPont in 1946 so she could save enough money to go to medical school. Eight years later she was researching how to turn polymers into extra strong synthetic fibers that were ounce-for-ounce as strong as steel. Kevlar has been used to manufacture skis, radial tires and brake pads, suspension bridge cables, helmets, and hiking and camping gear. But it is best known for making bulletproof vests used daily by policemen and soldiers. Kwolek may have never fulfilled her dream of going to medical school, but there are many who literally owe their lives to her invention.

Navy Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was the third person to program the first large-scale computer in the United States in the 1950s. And, leave it to a woman, she was the first one to think about those who would come after her and write a manual of operations for future use.. She also invented the compiler, a device that translates English commands into computer code, making it easier to create more accurate code. This invention along with developing the first user-friendly programing language, COBOL, led to the first computers becoming available commercially. Not many inventors, male or female, can say for their efforts, a U.S. warship was named after them.

Mary Anderson of Alabama visited New York City in early 1900. While sightseeing she noticed the tram driver had to stop and go outside to wipe the snow off his front window. This inconvenience was also how drivers cleaned their windshields in that day even though it left much to be desired in the visibility department. Back home in Alabama, Anderson developed a tool operated from inside the vehicle that cleaned the outside of the glass using a squeegee on a spindle. Anderson received the patent for her device in 1903. In short order her invention became standard equipment on American, and eventually all cars.

T'was Not Always Thus

In 1715 a woman’s intellectual property was something she could no more be the owner of than her land or her money. American colonist Sybilla Masters, after watching Indian women at work, invented a more efficient way to turn corn into cornmeal. Women couldn't own property, so the patent for her invention was issued in the name of her husband, Thomas.

Almost one hundred years later, Mary Kies was the first American woman to earn a patent in her own name. She developed a way of weaving straw and silk together to create beautiful hats and was issued a patent in 1809. Her invention invigorated the economy of all of New England because the U.S. government had stopped importing European goods to avoid being drawn into the Napoleonic wars.

In 1810, Tabitha Babbitt created a prototype of the circular saw that would eventually be used in saw mills. She observed men cutting wood with a pit saw, a two-handled saw that required two men to pull it back and forth though it only cut when pulled forward. The return stroke was useless and appeared to Babbitt to be a waste of energy and time.

In 1845, Sarah Mather patented the submarine telescope and lamp, giving the world its first look at the floor of the ocean. (Many searches revealed no further information on this woman!)

When Martha Coston was widowed in 1847, she was the sole support of her four children. While searching for a means of providing for her family, she found her late husband’s plans for a flare system that ships could use to communicate at night. When tested, the system failed. She worked for the next ten years revising and perfecting her husband's design for a colored flare system. She hit upon the idea of applying some pyrotechnic technology to her flare system after taking her children to a fireworks exhibition. The flare system finally worked, and the U.S. Navy bought the rights. Coston produced 1,200,000 flares for the Navy during the Civil War at the cost of $120,000. The Navy only paid her $15,000, the amount they determined was reasonable to pay a woman.

Sarah E. Goode, born a slave in 1850, was granted the first patent by an African American woman inventor for her folding cabinet bed. It could be used as a desk with compartments for storage when space was too limited to leave the bed unfolded.

In 1886, Josephine Cochrane said, "If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself." It wasn’t that she spent her time washing dishes. She was just sick and tired of her servants breaking her heirloom china after fancy dinners at her home in Shelbyville, Illinois. Not many homes in those days had the hot water heaters necessary to run it. More affluent homeowners resisted paying for something their housewives did for free. So Cochrane pitched her product to large hotels and restaurants, selling them on the fact that the dishwasher could do the job they were paying several dozen employees to do.

Ever hear of a board game called “Monopoly”? In 1904 Lizzie Magie invented it in its original form and called it “The Landlords Game.”

Marion Donovan invented a disposable diaper in the early 1940s. The reason it took so long to become available at the local grocery store may have been that she sold the invention for one million dollars in 1946 so she could spend her time on other inventions.

Hedy Lamarr was a famous Hollywood actress in the 1940s. Known primarily for her beauty, she was also a mathematician and an inventor. In 1942, Lamarr, along with composer George Anthiel, received a patent for a system of radio frequency-hopping. This invention allowed radios to guide torpedoes without interference. Their early technique made wireless communication possible in the days before computer technology.

Bette Nesmith Graham created in her home blender the product Liquid Paper and received a patent in 1958. She was inspired by department store holiday window painters who fixed mistakes by painting over them. (Fun fact: Her son, Michael Nesmith, grew up to be a member of the 1960s rock group the Monkees.)

In 1983 Barbara McClintock, an American scientist and cytogeneticist, became the first woman to win, unshared, the Nobel Prize. It was awarded to her in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of a genetic mechanism called transposition.

Laugh Now – But One Day

One day Frances Gabe will be remembered for her 1984 patent for a self-cleaning house. Each room has a 10-inch square Cleaning/ Drying/ Heating/ Cooling device on the ceiling. At the push of a button, the cleaning unit sends a powerful spray of soapy water around the room and then rinses and blow-dries everything. Each room has a sloped floor to aid the water drainage, and all valuable objects and other things that should not get wet are stored under glass. The house in Oregon features self-cleaning sinks, bathtubs, and toilets; and closets that can clean and dry the clothes hung inside them.

Home Depot and Lowes: are you paying attention?


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Comments 38 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Great research and very interesting facts. So, we have a woman to thank for Monopoly, huh? I may never forgive her. LOL


anndango 3 years ago

Yay, very interesting read! It's a shame women aren't given as much attention for innovations and inventions as men. Quite often one assumes it was had to be a man. Thanks for setting a few things right! Voted up, interesting and sharing.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

billybuc: Explains a lot, doesn't it?

anndango: The research said we may never know all the inventions of women due to the early years when everything was in the father or husband's name. There were many more I didn't include. It was a fun hub to do.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

Fascinating read here! However, I am not surprised about all of these woman. I would love that self-cleaning house :) !!!

Voted up ++ and sharing

Blessings, Faith Reaper


Elias Zanetti profile image

Elias Zanetti 3 years ago from Athens, Greece

A well researched and informative hub, Kathleen. I was familiar with Hedy Lamarr's hollywood career (some of her films were quite daring, even scandalous for their time) but I didn't know about her math background or her invention. Voted and shared.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Elias: Is this your first visit to my hubs? If so, welcome and hope you find more you like. I had no idea about Lamarr and checked a couple of sources before I included her. She did have a collaborator, but still pretty impressive.

Faith: Thanks for the following. Hope your circle of hubbers find this hub an interesting read as well. Always encouraging to hear from you.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Kathleen - this is very interesting, Some great women inventors. Sharing. :)


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you. Thank you. But you are supposed to be writing your syllabus young lady!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

kapilddit: Welcome to my hubs. Glad you found this one. It was fun research.


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Kathleen, this hub is a revelation; I had no idea women were behind the inventions of so many things.

Very interesting.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

Very interesting and fun read. ^


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Jackie Lynnley: Thanks for the comments and (I think!) welcome to my hubs. I like research and giving it my own spin. Hope you have time to read some of my others. I have one on First Ladies you might like.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 3 years ago from Dubai

Great hub, informative and useful. What would we have done without these inventions! Thank you for sharing. Voted up.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Vellur: Welcome to my hubs. Thanks for giving this one a read!


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 3 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

Hi Kathleen Cochran! I'm not too sure about the self-cleaning house yet, but it's wonderful that you've found and written about things invented by women. I was surprised by the liquid paper invention and the circular saw. Neat stuff.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

mythbuster: Well, by your handle I think I can take this comment as high praise. Sounds like you ought to know! Thanks for the read and the comments.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

I'm surprised you could find information on all of these things. An incredible article that should be required reading of all young girls by the 4th grade. Voted up, awesome, pinned to my 'Exceptional Women' board, and will share.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Au fait: Thanks so much for spreading this one around. Girls need to know there was a time when they didn't get credit for their brains. Many female inventions will never be known.

Research is my old reporter/self coming out in me.

Hope your holidays are merry!


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Full of interesting facts. It's good to know how some really important inventions are the ideas of women. Sad to think that one of them had to give the credit to her husband, and glad that times have changed. A good read!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Some amazing women mentioned here Kathleen. I knew about Hedy Lamarr...incredible beauty and brains....but most of the others are new to me. Thank you for sharing this interesting hub. p.s. are you relate to Josephine Cochrane...? No you are Cochran...I guess not.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 2 years ago from New York

I always know when I read your hubs Kathleen, I will learn something and this was no exception. What makes it even better is your style and attention to detail!

I had a friend I worked with many years ago in X-ray. She said we needed a house with cement floors and a drain in the middle so we could just wash dirt away...imagine!

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Rebecca, thank God times have changed, yes?

Jodah, who is Josephine Cochrane? Excuse my ignorance. And I'm sure we started out at Cochranes and somebody dropped the e.

Tillsontitan, what can I say? I love research and the people with the patience to read the results of it! Thanks.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

"In 1886, Josephine Cochrane said, "If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself." It wasn’t that she spent her time washing dishes. She was just sick and tired of her servants breaking her heirloom china after fancy dinners at her home in Shelbyville, Illinois. Not many homes in those days had the hot water heaters necessary to run it. More affluent homeowners resisted paying for something their housewives did for free. So Cochrane pitched her product to large hotels and restaurants, selling them on the fact that the dishwasher could do the job they were paying several dozen employees to do."


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Yes, I should remember what I write! It's been a few months . . .


jennabee25 profile image

jennabee25 2 years ago from PA

Your photo of Hedy Lamarr pulled me into this hub. She laid the basis for cellular phone technology with her research. Great info here!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

jennabee25: Hope I can manage to pull you into some others! Welcome and thanks for commenting.


ArtDiva profile image

ArtDiva 14 months ago from Yountville, CA

Women rock! Keep this series up and out front. Good read, Kathleen!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 14 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I'm with you, ArtDiva. Thanks for the encouragement!


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 10 months ago from Essex, UK

Interesting list of inventors Kathleen - well compiled. I guess maybe, the one historical advantage women had to set against all the disadvantages in making a name for themselves and being recognised in their own right, would be that they often had the more practical experience particularly in households, to see a need for change to lighten workloads.

One thing that Au Fait said in the Comments was pertinent - girls in education still tend to be in the minority when it comes to science and technology, and perhaps need the incentivising example of women like this to encourage more to take up these important subjects.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 10 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Greensleeves: You make two very good points and thank you for adding them to the discussion. Changes to lighten the workloads: I don't know how many new houses I've looked through and come away saying, that builder must have listened to his wife about where to put the laundry room or the pantry or a mud room or back stairs or any number of improvements to traditional houses. When you are the one who has to live with it, you do know more about how to improve on it.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 months ago from United States

Yay, Frances Gabe-- and all the rest! And cheers to you for spotlighting their remarkable work.


peoplepower73 profile image

peoplepower73 3 months ago from Placentia California

Great Hub. As always, very informative and also very entertaining. I have one thing to add about Hedy Lamarr's invention. Frequency Hopping is used today in all of our cell phones for the Blue Tooth function and also for encryption of data for security purposes in data transmissions. It is also used in military Radar systems to prevent jamming by the enemy.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

P73: Thanks for the information. Only makes the hub better.

Dirt Farmer: Thanks and welcome to my hubs!


thumbi7 profile image

thumbi7 3 months ago from India

Very interesting hub

Thanks for sharing


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 3 months ago from New Delhi, India

Great hub about women inventors~ Hats off to them for making our lives easier and thanks to you for sharing such important information!

Enjoyed going through your hub and learnt a lot from it!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks thumbi7 amd Chitrangada!!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 3 months ago from Taos, NM

Wonderful article! It is so interesting to read of these women inventors who have not be heralded nationally or internationally. What a shame. Thanks for sharing this with us.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks Suzette!

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