As February draws to a close, so does the celebration of Women Inventors Month. Commemorating greatness from Monopoly to a secret communications system used in World War II to stem cell isolation. There are plenty of inventions to remember from some truly honourable, pioneering women as we propel our way into Women’s History Month and celebrate International Women’s Day.
1. Hedy Lamarr – Secret communications system, 1941
Best known as actress and beauty icon, Hedy Lamarr’s invention of the secret communications system used in World War II often goes unnoticed. Her system used frequency-hopping technology to prevent interception of classified messages by the enemy during the war. Laying the foundation for modern day Wi-Fi, GPS, the invention of mobile phones, fax machines, and countless other wireless technologies, Lamarr is an inventor to remember.
2. Stephanie Kwolek – Kevlar, 1966
Kwolek invented the super-strong fibre, Kevlar, almost by accident, whilst working on lighter fibre for car tyres. Today, the material has over 200 uses and is around five times stronger than steel. The most notable of uses is for the bullet-proof vest, saving the lives of countless police. Used also for tires, boat hulls, flame-resistant clothing, brake linings and many more, Kwolek and her contributions must not be forgotten.
3. Grace Hopper – Computer software, 1944
An inspiration to women in the field of science to this day, Hopper is credited with the invention of the Havard Mark I computer the size of a room and weighing five tons. Hopper is also accredited for coining the terms ‘bug’ and ‘de-bug’ after finding that the cause of disruption in her computer was an actual moth. Her role in translating language to computer code and teamwork to compile the first user-friendly programming language makes her one of the most important women in the development of modern technology.
4. Elizabeth Magie – Monopoly, 1904
Originally named ‘The Landlord’s Game’, what we now know as Monopoly was developed by Magie. Designed to mock capitalist greed and expose the hardships of living on rent, Magie received her patent in 1904. Though ripped off in 1934 by Charles Darrow and renamed Monopoly, Magie’s original patent made sure she was credited, and remembered as the inventor of the much-loved family game.
5. Katharine Burr Blodgett – Invisible glass, 1935
As the first female scientist hired by General Electric, Blodgett is credited with the invention of non-reflecting glass. With no glare or distortion, the glass was extremely useful to chemists, physicists, and metallurgists. Used today for camera lenses, microscopes, picture frames, glasses, optics, and more, her incredible invention is revolutionary.
6. Maria Beasley – Life raft, 1880
Credited with the invention of the improved life raft, Beasley’s version built on the original flat rafts with updates guard rails to protect passengers in emergencies when abandoning ship. First patented in 1880 in the US and UK, she received a second patent for an updated version in 1882. Alongside the invention of a stream generator, foot warmer and barrel-hooping machine, Beasley received a total of 15 US patents in her lifetime and 2 in the UK.
7. Josephine Cochran – Dishwasher, 1886
Tired of washing her own fine china by hand, Cochran invented the first commercially successful dishwasher, patented in 1886. Previous attempts by men had involved scrubbers in their inventions, though Cochran’s use of water pressure to clean was far more effective and successful. Founding her own company, Cochran sold her dishwashers to hotels and restaurants before they became a household utility in the 1950s.
8. Bessie Virginia Blount – Feeding tube, 1948
Working as a nurse, physical therapist, and handwriting expert, Blount’s work with World War II veteran amputees teaching them to write with their teeth and feet inspired her to find a way for them to feed themselves. Her invention involved a tube that delivered food to the mouth when bitten down on. Paving the way for modern day feeding tubes, her contributions must not be forgotten.
9. Marie Van Brittan Brown – Home security system, 1969
Alongside her husband, Brown’s long working hours away from her home and occasionally being home alone late at night inspired the pair to invent the home security system. The invention involved a sliding camera that could capture images through peep holes, TV monitors to display the images, microphones to communicate with people at the door, and an emergency button to alert authorities. Laying the foundations for modern security systems, Brown’s astounding invention is one to remember.
10. Ann Tsukamoto – Stem cell isolation, 1991
Tsukamoto is credited with the invention of the first method of isolating blood-forming stem cells in 1991. Holding an astounding 12 US patents for her research into stem cells, and used today for the development of cancer treatments, Tsukamoto’s contributions to modern science are to be commemorated.
11. Patricia Bath – Laser cataract surgery, 1986
Inventor of the Laserphaco Probe and first woman elected to the UCLA Medical Centre, Bath is a major name in the medical field. Her Probe removed cataracts which can lead to vision loss, and was far more effective, accurate and less invasive than methods that had tried previously. Founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in Washington, Bath’s contributions to ophthalmology must be honoured.
12. Sarah Mather – Aquascope, 1845
Credited with the invention of the underwater viewing device, Mather’s Aquascope was a combination of telescope and lamp for submarines. Used for underwater exploration, sea vessels were able to explore the depths of the ocean and detect underwater warships. Now used for reefs, checking boat mooring, surveying, and secchi disks, the educational tool is crucial in the history of deep-sea exploration.
(All dates are when a patent was issued)