top of page

10 Things You Might Not Know Were Invented by Women

In a recent proposal by Indian government, it has been proposed to fast-track patent applications from women in its latest bid to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship among women. To celebrate and encourage the noble step from Indian government, let us take a look at some of the inventions that we use today for which women inventors are responsible.

Computer Software - Grace Hopper

After joining the US Navy during the Second World War, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was assigned to work on a new computer, called the Mark 1.

It wasn't long before she was at the forefront of computer programming in the 1950s.

She was behind the compiler, which could translate instructions into code that computers can read, making programming quicker and ultimately revolutionising how computers worked.

Hopper also helped popularised the term "de-bugging" that we still use on computers programmes today, after a moth was removed from inside her machine.

The Car Heater - Margaret A. Wilcox

The first car heater, which directed air from over the engine to warm the chilly toes of aristocratic 19th-century motorists, was invented by Margaret A. Wilcox in 1893. The car heater consisted of a combustion chamber located under the car, and pipes to transmit hot water. Her system redirected air that was over the engine to the inside of the car to allow passengers to stay warm. Her invention of the car heater became the basic system on modern car heaters used today.

She also patented her invention with patent number US509415 that got published on Nov 23, 1893.

She also invented a combined clothes and dish washer, which someone should please build immediately.

The Life Raft - Maria Beasely

One day in 1882, Maria Beasely looked out at the sea and said, "People should, like, stop dying in huge transportation disasters." And then she invented life rafts.

Although ships did have emergency rafts, they were simple planks with hollow floats and no guard rails — almost exactly like a raft made of wood a character might make in a cartoon. Beasley wanted to create a raft that was "fire-proof, compact, safe, and readily launched.

She also patented her raft invention with patent number US258191 that got published on May 16, 1882 i.e. long before Titanic sank in Atlantic Ocean.

Beasely also invented a machine for making barrels, and it made her really rich.

The Dishwasher - Josephine Cochrane

American inventor Josephine Cochrane came up with the idea of a mechanical dishwasher, one that would hold dishes securely in a rack while the pressure of a water sprayer cleaned them. It was an improved dish washing machine wherein water could be sprayed into the machine both from above and below the dishes. Also, the water could be sprayed from a rotatable nozzle giving machine a better cleaning operation.

She also patented her invention with patent number US1009223 that got published on Nov 21, 1911.

She marketed her invention to hotel owners and eventually opened her own factory. Cochrane continued selling her dishwasher until shortly before her death, and her legacy lives on: her company was bought by KitchenAid in 1916, and Cochrane is still listed as one of its founders.

The Paper Bag - Margaret E. Knight

Margaret Knight received her patent for a machine that could produce square-bottomed bags in 1871, after a long legal battle with a fellow machinist, Charles Anan, who tried to steal her work by arguing that such a brilliant invention could not possibly have been invented by a girl.

She got the patent for her invention with patent number USRE9202 that got published on May 18, 1880.

Over the course of her career, Knight invented over 100 different machines and patented 20 of them, including a rotary engine, a shoe-cutting machine, and a window frame with a sash. But if the true test of an invention is its staying power, then Knight's paper bag — still used today — is proof of her incredible gifts.

The First 100% Solar Powered House - Maria Telkes

The Hungarian scientist is famous for creating the first thermoelectric power generator in 1947, designing the first solar heating system for the Dover Sun House in Dover, Massachusetts, and the first thermoelectric refrigerator in 1953 using the principles of semiconductor thermoelectricity.

She has many patents related to solar heating and cooling systems in her kitty. Some of the patents are US2595905 (Radiant energy heat transfer device), US4010620 (Cooling system) and US4187189 (Phase change thermal storage materials with crust forming stabilizers) etc.

Kevlar - Stephanie Louise Kwolek

Although this invention from American chemist Stephanie Kwolek was an accident, it makes it no less loved. She invented Kevlar in 1964 when an experiment with turning a solid polymer into a liquid didn't work as planned; while her peers considered the experiment a failure, Kwolek took a closer look, and discovered that fibers within the liquid were five times stronger than steel.

This material, which is five times stronger than steel, is famous for its use in body armour, is also used in bicycle tyres, racing sails, frying pans, musical instruments and building construction, thanks to its tensile strength-to-weight ratio. Since her discovery the material has saved lives and is used by millions every day.

Windscreen Wiper - Mary Anderson

Can you imagine driving a car in bad weather without windshield wipers? Until Mary Anderson thought of them, that was the only option! Anderson was already a real estate developer and rancher when she visited New York City in 1902 and rode on a trolley car where the driver had to open the panes of the front window in order to see through falling sleet. As soon as she returned home to Alabama, she set to work conceiving a solution. Her device used a lever inside the vehicle to control a rubber blade on the windshield; similar devices had been made earlier, but Anderson's was the first effective model. Amazingly, car manufacturers initially didn't see the value in her invention; one Canadian firm declined her invention in 1905, saying "we do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale." However, in 1922, Cadillac became the first car manufacturer to include a windshield wiper on all its vehicles, and after Anderson's patent expired, they quickly became standard equipment. Anderson never profited from her invention, even when the wipers later became standard on cars.

Monopoly - Elizabeth Magie

One of the most famous board games of all time, responsible for endless hours of wholesome family fun and/or devastating family arguments, was invented by Elizabeth Magie in 1904 under the original name The Landlord's Game. Magie's game was a critique of the injustices of unchecked capitalism, making it all the more ironic when her game was completely ripped off by Charles Darrow 30 years later, who sold it to Parker Brothers. The firm eventually tracked down Magie and paid her $500 for her troubles.

Infant Carrier - Ann Moore

As a Peace Corps nurse during the 1960s in West Africa, Ann Moore saw African mothers do something that she found very interesting: they carried their babies in fabric slings tied securely on their backs. Moore liked the closeness between babies and their mothers when carried in this way. After her daughter was born, Moore attempted to secure the baby on her back just as she had seen, but the child kept slipping. Starting from a simple backpack and then refining it to their needs, Moore and her mother designed a carrier similar to the ones used by the women in Togo. Together, they came up with the original soft baby carrier, the Snugli®, as well as other kinds of specialized carrying cases.

She got the patent for her invention with patent number US4434920 that got published on March 06, 1984.

Apart from these inventors there have been many mysterious women inventors and we will probably never know how many women inventors there were. That's because in the early years of the countries like United States, a woman could not get a patent in her own name. A patent is considered a kind of property, and until the late 1800s laws forbade women in most states from owning property or entering into legal agreements in their own names. Instead, a woman's property would be in the name of her father or husband.

Many people believe that Sybilla Masters was the first American woman inventor. In 1712 she developed a new corn mill, but was denied a patent because she was a woman. Three years later the patent was filed successfully in her husband's name.

Hopefully, in coming years many women inventors will be encouraged to come up with inventions and choose the way of entrepreneurship and other countries will also take up similar steps to ease the patenting processes not only for women but for all !

bottom of page