Love Your Drip Coffee? Thank a Woman! 12 Female Inventors and Their Products
Clever women who wanted to find a solution to common everyday problems like washing dishes or identifying who was on the phone have helped change our lives in a variety of ways. Have you ever stopped to consider who invented the potato chip bag or the dishwasher? Learn the stories about these inventions and several more.
The Chocolate Chip Cookie
Do you hate doing dishes by hand? If you’ve got a dishwasher, thank Josephine Cochrane who just wanted to find a way to wash dishes well while protecting her valuable china. Hand-powered dishwashers previously existed, but Cochrane was the first to come up with a dishwasher that used water pressure, no scrubbers. Drawing up the plans, she constructed it in a shed in the backyard of her Shelbyville, Illinois home. Her version featured a motor turning the wheel while the hot water and soap washed the dishes clean. After only hotels and restaurants were interested in her showcase at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, she decided to found a company to manufacture and sell the equipment. This company would eventually become KitchenAid, one of the most popular kitchenware companies today.
This Friday night, lift a glass to toast the work of women from nearly 7,000 years ago. While beer is chiefly associated with men, beer was actually the work of a woman. According to Jane Peyton, author of Beer o’ Clock, women have had an indelible mark on beer throughout various cultures. In Sumeria, only women could be trusted to drink or brew beer, while in the Viking area, the ale was made by women. Norse law said that only women were allowed to brew beer and they alone owned the equipment. Today women carry on the tradition brewing beer all over the world, including in the U.S. states, where 29% of brewers are female.
Thank you, Melitta Benz. Without the work of this female entrepreneur, many of us would have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Benz was a housewife and was dismayed to see her percolator over-brewing the coffee. Coffee filters existed, but were made of linen, and thus harder to clean. Benz wanted to find a better way so she used a bit of blotting paper as a filter, then ran in through a hole in a brass coffee machine. The result was a cleaner cup of coffee and the first drip coffee process. She was granted a patent in 1908 and changed the world of coffee as we know it.
Every time a Kevlar vest is used, it’s thanks to the world of Stephanie Kwolek. The DuPont chemist came about inventing Kevlar in 1964 while her team was looking for a lightweight yet strong fiber. After several trials with polymers at over 392 °F, she decided to melt-spin the polymers are a lower temperature. The resulting fiber was stronger than nylon and wouldn’t break, yet would be five times stronger than steel. It was an incredible finding and now Kevlar has over 200 uses and counting.
Bagged Potato Chips
There’s nothing like opening a fresh bag of potato chips when you’re just sitting the house with Netflix. Have you ever given thought as to who invented them? While a woman didn’t invent the chips themselves — those are courtesy of cook George Crum in 1853 — she did come up with the idea of putting them in bags. Laura Scudder, also known as the “Potato Chip Queen of the West” decided to put potato chips in a waxed paper bag, then have them sealed on three sides with special irons. Her new way as a welcome change from the traditional way of selling chips out of a barrel. Her work eventually became a million-dollar company, Scudder Foods. Scudder Foods was bought in 1987 by Borden for $100 million.
Voice-Controlled Processor, Handicapped Driving Systems
In 1982, Martine Kempf invented a computer program that would respond to spoken commands. Kempf was inspired when she observed armless teens unable to maneuver wheelchairs easily. The teens had suffered birth effects from thalidomide and were born without arms. Her invention came when she was just 23, and four years later, she had a patented microprocessing invention, known as the Katalavox. She manufactured it in Silicon Valley and it found use in microsurgery. She also went on to invent the Comeldir Multiplex Handicapped Driving System for drivers who needed to use their feet to operate cars.
For those days when you come home and just want to throw something in the oven, there’s frozen pizza. And that’s the work of Rose Totino. The child of an Italian immigrant, Rose Totino soon had fellow PTA fans in awe of her homemade pizza when she brought it to meetings. She and her husband Jim eventually opened a restaurant to serve their pizza. She would actually demonstrate her frozen pizza’s success in the bank by using a portable oven to get a business loan. The stunt worked and her frozen pizza empire began. She wanted to take her pizza nationally and patented a process that made her frozen crust taste just like homemade. Soon the Totino’s were dominating the frozen pizza business and created a brand throughout the country. Pillsbury bought the company in 1975, and she became the first female corporate vice president at Pillsbury.
Driving in inclement weather is never fun, especially if you can’t see the road or the car in front of you. Mary Anderson was an Alabama inventor visiting New York City in 1903. It was snowing heavily, and she watched the driver often roll down his window to wipe away the snow off his windshield. He also had to look out the window to see, and this sight unnerved her. Anderson decided to come up with a new invention when she returned home. She drew up plans for the windshield wiper, a swinging arm with a rubber blade that could be operated via lever by the driver. She filed for a patent the same year and tried to sell her invention. Her efforts were unsuccessful but after her patent lapsed, cars were more common, and others built upon her idea.
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper helped change the way computer programming language operates today. She worked through the Navy for most of her life and had joined shortly after 1941’s Pearl Harbor tragedy. By 1943, she was in the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard and helped program the Harvard Mark I computer. She then became a programmer with Remington Rand working on UNIVAC, the first large-scale commercial computer. As Director of Automatic Programming, she led the team that invented COBOL, or Common Business Oriented Language. COBOL is the first user-friendly business computer software program and was an extraordinary invention as prior to its arrival, computer programmers had to write instructions for every piece of software.
Dr. Gertrude Elion might not be a familiar name, but you certainly know her work. A pioneer of medicine, she made remarked discoveries, including chemotherapy. She was inspired to go into medicine after watching her grandfather die painfully from cancer. Her work focused on anti-cancer medicine, and she eventually came up with Purinethol, the first leukemia drug. Later she would work with Dr. Janet Rideout, the woman who developed AZT, the first effective drug for AIDS. Elion also came up Zyloprim, a drug used to treat gout and kidney stones, and the antiviral Zovirax.
Home Security Systems
Marie Van Brittan Brown has helped make all of our homes safer thanks to her work with home security systems. Living in Queens, she was worried about safety and created a system with three peep-hopes, as well as a camera that could allow someone to look through the peepholes by sliding up and down. The door could be opened by remote control and also had a monitor to view people at, the first closed-circuit security system. If the homeowner didn’t think the person on the door was safe, they could push a button to alert police or security. Her work became the basis for home security systems still in use today.
If you’ve got an idea or think you can solve a problem, just look at the work of these women and see how they helped change the world in their industry. You never know what you might invent!