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The United States celebrates Women’s History Month in March. On March 8th specifically, women are celebrated around the world for International Women’s Day. Women have played a vital role throughout history by pushing society forward through innovation, inventions, and inspiration.
Here are 9 inventions you may not know were created by women:
Raise your hand if you like to see while you drive! A modern luxury we often take for granted, Mary Anderson patented the “window cleaning device for electric cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice or sleet from the window” in 1903.
Before Anderson’s invention, vehicles had front windows which the driver could open to manually remove the snow or rain covering the pane. On a cold, icy, winter day in New York City, Anderson noticed how inconvenient (and impractical) open window exposure was to both the driver and passengers in the car.
She developed a prototype using wood and rubber which was controlled by a lever placed near the steering wheel. Pulling on the lever prompted the spring-loaded device to drag itself across the window to clear away any obstructions. Mary Anderson’s model paved the way for mechanical windshield wipers, which became standard equipment for cars in 1913.
I’ll take a dozen, please. These delicious cookies now have a household name, but were actually invented by accident.
Ruth Graves Wakefield and her husband were the owners of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. Ruth would often prepare treats for visiting tourists, and one night while doing so, she discovered that she had run out of baker’s chocolate. Looking for a substitute, she broke a Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bar into bits and added it to her mixture, assuming the pieces would melt in the oven. Surprisingly (and perhaps, thankfully), this was not the case. Ruth coined her new recipe “Toll House Crunch Cookies.”
The recipe became extremely popular and was eventually published, which caused a spike in sales for Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bars. Andrew Nestle approached Ruth about a partnership, and Ruth agreed to print her cookie recipe on his packaging in exchange for a lifetime supply of Nestle chocolate. To this day, Ruth’s unexpected invention remains one of America’s most beloved cookies.
While not much is known about Florence Parpart, we do know of her success as an entrepreneur, including her invention of the electric fridge.
In 1914, Florence received the patent alongside her husband for the invention of electric powered refrigerators. The design featured an attachment that circulated water throughout the appliance to keep the system cooled. Her entrepreneurial skills played a great role in helping her sell the invention by implementing advertising campaigns and setting up shop at trade shows.
This was Florence’s second patent, with her first being an improved design to the original street sweeper.
Considered the “Angelina Jolie” of her time, Hedy Lamarr was more than just a beautiful and talented actress of the 1930s and ‘40s.
In 1942, at the height of her acting career, Lamarr (alongside composer George Antheil) patented a device known as the “Secret Communications System.” The device was created during World War II as a means of defending against German nazi attacks by blocking signals and changing radio frequencies to keep them from decoding messages. Unfortunately, her invention was not taken seriously at the time, and Lamarr was not recognized for her achievements until technology had further progressed over time.
Hedy Lamarr’s technology was later used by the military, and eventually became an influential step in the development of cell phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and other wireless communication devices. It wasn’t until 55 years after receiving her patent that Hedy was recognized for her achievements as the co-inventor of frequency hopping with a well-deserved award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Quite possibly the most essential piece in any woman’s wardrobe.
Lisa Lindahl picked up running in her 20s and encouraged her sister to do the same. Given that it was the late 70s, just a few years after the passing of Title IX, the demand for women’s performance gear was never seriously considered. A conversation between Lindahl and her sister about the discomfort they experienced while running is what inspired Lindahl to create “a jockstrap for women.” Lisa recruited her costume designer friend, Polly Palmer-Smith, to help build a prototype. Thus was born: The Jogbra.
Lindahl and Palmer-Smith’s invention was about more than just comfort. Their creation became a crucial part in paving the way for female participation in sports by normalizing women’s performance gear and encouraging women to live a more active lifestyle. Today, sports bras are a $7 billion dollar industry worldwide.
Additional recognition goes to Renelle Braaten for expanding on Lindahl’s idea in 1993 by introducing a fuller coverage, high impact sports bra to accommodate women with larger cup sizes.
Marie Van Brittan Brown lived in Queens, New York her entire life. Growing up in a high crime area, Brown had little confidence in the response time rate in emergency situations from her local police force. These circumstances influenced her to create a device that would increase the level of safety in her home.
Brown’s elaborate system featured peepholes on her front door, an adjustable camera that reflected surveillance images through the peepholes onto an in-home monitor, and an alarm button that would alert the authorities immediately when sounded. She also installed a two-way microphone so she was able to communicate with the person standing outside, and a feature that could unlock the front door with the touch of a button for her welcomed visitors.
The invention was patented in 1969 as the “Home Security System Utilizing Television Surveillance.” Brown’s creation laid the groundwork for our modern day security systems, which feature more advanced versions of her ideas such as alarm triggers, video monitoring, remote controlled locks, and more.
After graduating from university in 1946, Kwolek originally had plans to continue her studies by applying for medical school. Knowing that she would need a means to continue funding her education, she accepted a job as a chemist for the DuPont Company. Soon after starting her job, Stephanie fell in love with her chemical research, and abandoned her plans of continuing on to the medical field.
Kwolek discovered Kevlar in 1965 while looking for an alternative material for use in car tires to help improve gas mileage. What she ended up creating was the light-weight, heat resistant fiber that we use today in many forms of performance and protection gear, including bulletproof vests.
Ah yes, warmth. We have Alice Parker to thank for fireplaces no longer being the primary source of heat for shielding ourselves from the cold winter months.
Alice Parker patented the first system to use natural gas as a fuel for powering heated furnaces in 1919. She noticed that her fireplace was not very effective at warming every room throughout her home, and sought to find a solution. Her natural gas powered furnace pulled cool air into a heat exchanger that would then push warm air through a system of ducts, ensuring that every room was being heated. Her invention also lessened the risk of house fires and eliminated the necessity to chop or buy firewood.
Parker’s patent was not only revolutionary to the development of our modern central heating systems, but it was also an extremely impressive accomplishment for an African American woman to achieve prior to both the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Liberation Movement.
Yep, you read that correctly. Please raise a glass at your next Trivia Night to the women of ancient Mesopotamia for being some of the first brewers of this tried and true beverage.
Natural fermentation of bread or wild cereal agriculture could have been linked to the “accidental” discovery of beer in many parts of the world. But one thing historians know for certain is that the first deliberate recipe for beer brewing comes from the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia dating back to 3500-3100 BC. Through identification of art, poems, and myths it’s been discovered that consuming beer was considered a daily and essential regimen for Sumerians and their gods.
Sumerians praised Ninkasi, the goddess of beer, and “The Hymn to Ninkasi” was used as a tool to easily remember the brewing process. Women, also known as the priestesses of Ninkasi, brewed beer regularly alongside the preparation of other meals in their homes.
Yes, women are badass. And yes, we will continue to be. While this is just a short list of the influence we’ve gained from female figures in history, there are so many women around the globe, past and present, that deserve recognition for what they’ve contributed to society. What women in history have inspired you? We’d love to hear your response!