She wasn’t allowed inside the textile mill during testing, due to draconian rules that forbade women on the premises. She was forced to wait outside the building for test results
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2016, here are some everyday items that were invented by women. Many of these things are fixtures in our day-to-day lives. Best of all, they come from a range of industries that are usually male-dominated. Perhaps these women’s ingenuity can inspire other women into “non-traditional” trades. Over to you, ladies…
Windshield wipers – invented by Mary Anderson
Mary Anderson was an Alabama housewife with a practical and inquisitive mind. During a trip to New York City in 1903 she noticed that drivers of streetcars had to constantly stop their vehicles, get out and manually clear snow and droplets of rain from the outside of the windscreen during bad weather. That got her thinking. Surely there was a better way?
And there was. Two years later, Anderson was issued a patent for the world’s first windshield wipers. Her prototype consisted of a swinging arm with a rubber blade attached to it that could be operated by the driver from inside the vehicle and would sweep across the surface of the glass, thus clearing build-up of snow and rain.
Initially, many people were scornful of Anderson’s invention and she became the subject of much ridicule. However, she who laughs last, laughs longest. By 1916, windshield wipers were standard issue on all American cars and today, it’s almost impossible to drive in the rain without them. Incidentally, the world’s first electric windshield wipers were also patented by a woman – Charlotte Bridgwood.
Mary Anderson image credit AustoMedics.
Kevlar – invented by Stephanie Kwolek
Kevlar is the material used in bullet-proof vests that makes them bullet-proof. It’s a synthetic fabric five times stronger than the equivalent weight of steel. It’s rust-resistant, waterproof and lightweight.
Its inventor, Stephanie Kwolek worked as a research chemist at America’s DuPont Company for over 40 years. She invented Kevlar almost by accident while experimenting with high performance chemical compounds.
Kwolek patented Kevlar in 1966 and it was first marketed commercially in 1971. Today it generates hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide and is also used in safety helmets, radial tyres, brake pads, parachutes, underwater cables, space vehicles, suspension bridge cables, racing sails, safety gloves, hiking and camping gear and building materials. Throughout her lifetime, Kwolek obtained 28 patents for a diverse range of inventions, of which Kevlar was the most significant.
Stephanie Kwolek image credit The Guardian.
Liquid Paper – invented by Bette Nesmith
These days, Liquid Paper doesn’t have the same career opportunities it once commanded, as most of our writing takes place on electronic devices. But for many decades it was an essential item for anyone prone to spelling mistakes.
Bette Nesmith was an executive secretary in a bank in Texas, USA. Decades before word processors had been invented, Nesmith became frustrated with having to manually erase typing mistakes, so she decided to apply the principle of covering up rather than rubbing out. Her very first batch of what would become known as Liquid Paper was improvised using tempera water-based paint and mixed in her kitchen blender.
She marketed her typewriter correction fluid in 1956 under the somewhat cumbersome name of ‘Mistake Out”. A few years later when she started her own company, the name was changed to Liquid Paper. By the time Nesmith sold her company to Gillette Corporation in 1979, she employed over 200 workers and produced 25 million bottles of Liquid Paper a year.
Bette Nesmith Graham Image credit Pinterest.
Scotchgard – invented by Patsy Sherman
Without this brilliant woman, the world we’d all be living in would be a lot more stained and filthy.
Patsy Sherman was born in the U.S. state of Minnesota in 1930, her brilliant scientific mind already apparent by the time she was a teenager. When her high school aptitude test in 1947 ranked her as most suited to being a housewife, she insisted she be allowed to take the boy’s version of the test. This time around, the results reflected her scientific intellect and ranked her as being most suited to chemistry.
It was while she was working as a research chemist at 3M manufacturing corporation (one of the very few female chemists at the time) that the now famous lab accident happened that led directly to the invention of Scotchgard. A lab assistant dropped a glass bottle containing a batch of synthetic latex that Sherman had made. The mixture splashed onto the assistant’s shoes, rendering them unable to be soiled or stained. Sherman and her colleague, Sam Smith, instantly recognized the potential of this serendipitous finding and set to work on a way of manufacturing the substance as a protectant of stains for clothing and other fabrics. The invention, now known as Scotchgard, was first sold commercially in 1956, although Sherman and Smith didn’t take out the patent until 1973.
Ironically, in the mid-1950s while Sherman was still developing her invention, she wasn’t allowed inside the textile mill during testing, due to draconian rules that forbade women on the premises. She was forced to wait outside the building for test results.
Patsy Sherman image credit Star Tribune.
Computer programing – invented by Ada King, Countess of Lovelace
Yes, not only was computer programing invented by a woman, but it happened waaaay back in the 1840s, about a century and a half before the computer revolution.
Ada Lovelace was a gifted mathematician, born in London in 1815, the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron. When she was 18, she met mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage at a dinner party. Babbage had just invented his “Difference Engine”, a mechanical device designed for the process of complex mathematical equations. In 1842, Babbage asked Lovelace to translate the memoirs of Italian engineer Luigi Menabrea, which she did by encoding an algorithm in a form that could be processed by the Difference Engine. This historic piece of calculus is now recognized as the world’s first computer program.
Babbage dubbed Lovelace “The Enchantress of Numbers” and a software language developed by the U.S. Department of Defence in 1979 was named “Ada” in her honour.
Ada King image credit Medium.