10 FEMALE INVENTORS TO KNOW
1. MARGARET E. KNIGHT
Known by her nickname, “The Lady Edison,” Margaret E. Knight was a well-known and accomplished inventor in the 19th century. While working in a New Hampshire textile mill, Margaret first invented a safety device for textile looms. She is most famous for her invention of paper bags. Though seemingly simple, the machine she patented in 1871 cut, folded and glued flat-bottom paper shopping bags. She had used technology to replace the monotonous and tedious human assembly.
2. JOSEPHINE COCHRANE
We can all sing praises to Josephine Cochrane. She invented the dishwasher. Born in Ohio in 1839, Josephine was an entertaining socialite. Noting her china dishes could easily be chipped when hand-washed, and having been left in-debt once her husband passed, Josephine got to work. She designed racks for dishes and cups that stood up while a wheel spun flat below the racks. Hot soapy water from a copper boiler would be sprayed through the wheel and wash the dishes. In 1886 she patented her idea and established the Cochran’s Crescent Washing Machine Company. Her company was acquired by KitchenAid and eventually in the 1950s her early invention was popularized into most homes.
3. MADAME C.J. WALKER
Madame C.J. Walker, known as the first black woman millionaire in America, was an inventor and exceptional business woman. Born in Louisiana to parents who had been slaves, she was the first in her family to be born free. Named Sarah Breedlove, her early life was filled with strife. She was orphaned at age six, married at age fourteen, and widowed by the time she was twenty. After almost losing her own hair, and frustrated with the solutions white men were making for black hair, Walker set out to make the right hair solutions for black women. Her original homemade formulas, and empathy sold well. She then contracted women to sell her products for her - blossoming the business. She strategically moved headquarters to Pittsburgh - where railroads could spread the business even more. And she started a hair care school. At the height of production the Madame C.J. Walker Company employed over three thousand people, mostly black women. Her entrepreneurship is just as impressive as her philanthropy, having donated much of her time, money, and space to black universities, organizations, and social clubs.
4. MARIA BEASLEY
Maria Beasley is a hero. Over her lifetime she accumulated more than fifteen US patents and two Great Britain patents. Her inventions span industries but two were especially influential; Maria’s barrel making machine was timely and scalable. It’s estimated she made $20k/year at a time when most women were making $3/day. But perhaps the most impressive invention was Maria’s influence on sea safety. In 1880 she designed the first modern-day life raft. It was, “fire-proof, compact, safe, and readily launched.” The result has saved thousands of lives over a century. Her other inventions include foot warmers, cooking pans, and train safety equipment. Still, she was noted as an "unemployed housewife” in the 1880 US Census.
5. KATHARINE BURR BLODGETT
When we think about glass, we typically don’t think about the chemists who make it. Or rather, alter it and improve it. Katharine Burr Blodgett did just that. Born in upstate New York, she spent time in France, Chicago, and New York City before becoming the first woman to get a PhD in Physics from Cambridge University. But that isn’t the most impressive event of her life. While working in the lab at GE, Katharine developed non-reflective coatings for glass. This “invisible glass” was soon used on eyeglasses, camera lenses, telescopes and microscopes - widening her scientific impact to many fields. Katharine ended her career with eight patents to her name, six of which were solely hers.
6. GRACE HOPPER
Grace Hopper is pretty amazing. Born in New York, she obtained degrees from Vassar and Yale before joining the Navy. While working at Harvard by way of the Navy, Hopper coined the term “debugging” for computers. Once in the private sector, Hopper headed a team at Remington Rand. Her team developed the first computer code language, a compiler called A-0. At the time computer scientists thought computers could only do arithmetic, but she created the first programming language to use English commands. COBOL, the first code, changed computers to be able to be adapted by everyone. As she mentioned in later years, “… I kept calling for more user friendly languages. Most of the stuff we get from academicians, computer science people, is in no way adapted to people.” Her personal insight as a minority truly sprouted the empathy needed to have this fundamental insight.
7. MARIE VAN BRITTAN BROWN
Marie Van Brittan Brown was born in 1922. Marie worked as a nurse while her husband worked as an electronics technician. Living in Queens, New York, she would often come home after long-hours to a crime-busy neighborhood and a husband still at work. To add to her unease, Marie became concerned with how long it took police to arrive at a neighborhood alarm. She wanted to see who was at her front door from anywhere in her home. Making three peep holes in her front door, adding on camera monitoring, and finally a quick push-button call to emergency responders, Marie had invented the first home security system. The invention is now considered to be the foundation for modern day video monitoring, remote-controlled door locks, push-button alarm triggers, instant messaging to security providers and police, as well as two-way voice communication. She patented the system in 1969. Fast Forward to 2013, more than a dozen inventors had cited Marie’s patent for their own devices.
8. PATRICIA BATH
How many times have you heard about your grandparents’ (or parents’) cataracts? What used to be an unwavering path to cloudy vision or potential blindness is now solved with a quick outpatient procedure. All due to Patricia Bath. Patricia Bath was born in Harlem, New York. After completing undergrad at Hunter College, and Medical School at Howard University, she continued her studies at Harlem Hospital, Columbia University and New York University. Patricia began teaching at UCLA in 1974, but it wasn’t until 1986 that she invented the laserphaco probe - a less painful and more precise cataract treatment. Patenting the device in 1988, Patricia became the first African American female doctor to receive a patent in the United States. Truly a pioneer in the medical field, Patricia was the first African American in many institutions and organizations throughout her career, furthermore her laser inventions and probe are used on millions of cataract patients throughout the world today.
9. ANN TSUKAMOTO
Ann Tsukamoto was born in 1952 in Los Angeles. She received her PhD in microbiology and immunology from UCLA and continued her studies at UC San Francisco. It was in 1991 that she and her colleagues isolated blood forming stem-cells. The technology allows doctors to develop treatments for bone marrow transplants, blood cancers, and autoimmune diseases. Her isolating method was patented in the early nineties and opened the door for much more accurate studies towards cures. Today Ann holds 12 patents related to human hematopoietic stem cells, pancreatic stem cells, and human neural stem cells. Thanks to Ann’s medical methodology invention, advancements in diseases can develop many times faster, saving millions of lives.
10. ANNA STARK & ANDREA SRESHTA
What if your school project led to an invention that helped thousands of refugees and emergency relief victims? That’s exactly what happened to Anna Stark & Andrea Sreshta when in 2010 they were tasked with finding a way to help disaster relief. Their fellow Columbia University School of Architecture students didn’t quite find a simple or ingenious solution. Through research they learned that light is a fundamental challenge for many of those in need. Homework, cleaning, basic chores and tasks must be limited to daylight. And so Anna and Andrea founded LuminAID, a solar lighting that is waterproof, lightweight and portable. Working with the Tory Burch Foundation and gaining funding through Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban helped them skyrocket their solution world wide. The light solutions are used for relief efforts and refugees, but also camping or familiar picnics. It transcends differences in gender, race, religious, orientation, and social economic levels. These female inventors truly made a remarkable solution.