Mention “Inventors” and people tend to talk about Thomas Edison, Leonardo De Vinci, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers or, from more recent times James Dyson and Trevor Bayliss. However, on International Women’s Day we take a look at eight women whose inventions have changed our lives however.
Margaret Knight was an exceptionally prolific inventor in the late 19th century. Born in York, Maine and was a young girl when she began working in a textile mill. After seeing a fellow worker injured by a faulty piece of equipment, Knight came up with her first invention: a safety device for fabric looms. Then is 1871 she was awarded her first patent for a machine that cut, folded and glued flat-bottomed paper shopping bags, thus removing the need for workers to assemble them by hand.
During her lifetime, Knight received 27 patents, for inventions including shoe-manufacturing machines, a “dress shield” to protect garments from perspiration stains and even a rotary engine.
Coffee beans have been made into drinks for nearly a thousand years, but a German housewife named Melitta Bentz updated brewing for the modern world.
A hundred years ago, the usual method was to tie up the coffee grounds in a small cloth bag and place the bag into a pot of boiling water; the result was a bitter, gritty drink. After experimenting with many different methods, Bentz came up with a unique idea. She put a piece of thick, absorbent paper into a brass pot with a few holes punched in it and poured the coffee through this two-part device, which trapped the grounds and allowed the filtered liquid to seep through and drip into a waiting cup. She received a patent for her coffee filter system in 1908 and founded a business that still exists today – The Melitta Group.
Physicist, chemist and inventor Katharine Blodgett was educated at Bryn Mawr College and the University of Chicago. Then she became a pioneer in several respects: she was the first woman to receive a Ph.D in physics at Cambridge University in 1926.
During World War II, Blodgett contributed important research to military needs like gas masks, smoke screens and a new technique for de-icing airplane wings. Her work in chemistry resulted in her most influential invention: non-reflective glass. Her “invisible” glass was initially used for lenses in cameras and movie projectors; it also had military applications such as wartime submarine periscopes. Today, non-reflective glass is still essential for eyeglasses, car windshields and computer screens. Blodgett was issued eight U.S. patents during her career and she was the sole inventor on all but two of the patents,
In 1965, American inventor Stephanie Kwolek created the first in what would later become a range of fibers that were know for their exceptional stiffness that were “so strong not even a bullet could penetrate”. The most well known, Kevlar, is now used globally in clothing, and helps protect police and servicemen saving thousands of lives over the years. Kwolek invented it while she was actually working on a lighter fibre for car tires, earning a patent in 1966. The aramid fibres are applied in tires, brake linings, composite materials, boat hulls, flame-resistant clothing and the like.
She received an induction to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1994, making her the fourth female member at the time.
Born in Hungary in 1900, Maria Telkes is known as the “sun queen” having pioneered development of solar storage devices. While working for MIT in the US, Telkes focused her research on solar energy and received a grant to build the first ever home powered by sunlight. Dover House was completed in 1948 and she became the first recipient of the Society of Women Engineers Achievement award in 1952.
She was a prolific inventor of practical thermal devices, including a tiny desalination unit for use on lifeboats, which used solar power and condensation to collect potable water. The still saved the lives of airmen and sailors who would have been without water when abandoned at sea.
Owing to her religious affiliation with the Shaker community that observed a simple life, Tabitha Babbitt never applied for a patent for her inventions. Nevertheless, men have her to thank for inventing the circular saw, machine-cut nails and refining other tools that are commonly used today.
Her idea was inspired by observing men in her community who used a pit saw to cut wood in which half their energy was in the back hand stroke and therefore useless and wasted. Hence, Babbitt created the prototype for the circular saw that went on to be a key item in saw mills. Since Babbitt worked as a weaver, she took a circular blade and attached it to her spinning wheel to produce the circular motion.
Babbitt is also credited with inventing a process for the manufacture of false teeth and an improved spinning wheel head.
Patented in 1887, Josephine Cochrane invented the first commercially successful dishwasher. She is claimed to have said “If nobody else is going to invent a dish washing machine, I’ll do it myself!” Once her patent issued in 28 December 1886, she founded Garis-Cochrane Manufacturing Company to manufacture her machines.
In 1893, she won the highest prize for the best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work. Soon after this Cochrane began receiving orders from hotels and restaurants in Illinois leading to her factory business Gris-Cochrane in 1897. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the dishwasher became a household item.
Responsible for one of the most legendary board games of all time, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Magie invented ‘The Landlord’s Game’ which she hoped would explain the single-tax theory of Henry George. Magie’s designed it as an educational tool that directly mocked the unjust capitalist practices of land-grabbing and the downsides of living on rent.
Although Magie received a patent for her hard work in 1904, her game was ripped off some 30 years later (probably unintentionally) by Charles Darrow who reinvented it as ‘Monopoly’ and sold it to the Parker Brothers. Luckily the Parker Brothers tracked down its original patent holder and paid Magie $500 for the rights to it.
We hope you have been inspired by these powerful women who changed the world through inventions of their own. We are passionate about helping people transform their ideas into viable working products to sell on the market!
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We’ve worked with a number of clients to bring their ideas and inventions to the market. Take a look at some of the products we’ve worked on in our case studies section.
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