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The Mothers of Invention - Fun Facts to Know and Tell
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?