At the PCT Network, we are well aware of the power of amazing strong women. Besides our own managing director Lauren Pick, we regularly come across women working as intellectual property lawyers and inventors. As with any field, there is still room for balance and improvement in the future, but we also need to remember the past and the inventive women who have created some of the most important patents out.
Join us this International Women’s Day by celebrating the major impact women have on our world through learning about these 12 fascinating woman inventors who have paved the way for others.
A real estate developer, rancher, and inventor, Mary Anderson was the definition of a renaissance woman. During a winter trip to New York, Anderson experienced an uncomfortably cold ride in a trolley; the windows had to be kept open so the driver could keep sleet off the windshield! When she returned from her trip, she set to work creating a rubber blade for keeping windshields clean and clear. Using a lever on the inside of the vehicle, the windshield wiper allowed drivers to clear their windshield, without freezing everyone in the vehicle!
Dr. Patricia Bath is a co-founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. Bath’s passion for bringing eyesight to the blind has pushed her to the greatest heights. She was the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology, the first female faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA and the the first woman in the United States to lead a post-graduate training program in ophthalmology.
As a medical researcher, Bath was also the first African American woman to receive a medical patent. Her most famous invention is the Laserphaco probe, which helps increase the accuracy of cataracts surgery and returns eyesight to the blind.
Maria Beasley was a prolific inventor, and was listed officially as a professional inventor, an impressive title for a 19th Century woman. Beasley invented a barrel hooping machine, foot warmers, cooking pans, train devices, and life rafts. In 1880, Beasley invented her most famous of patents: a foldable life raft with guard railings and metal floats. This life raft was used on the Titanic, where it played a part in saving the passengers of the sinking ship.
One of the first things we do every morning is pour ourselves a mug of fresh coffee. If it’s coming from a drip machine, chances are it’s neither too bitter nor filled with coffee grinds. This is only possible due to the inventiveness of a woman. In 1908, Melitta Bentz, fed up with the challenges associated with making coffee, invented the coffee filter based on blotting paper from her son’s homework. Melitta started her own company producing and improving her paper coffee filter invention. Today, Melitta coffee filters can be found all across the world. The next time you take a sip of coffee, remember that you have an impressive woman to thank for it.
Katharine Burr Blodgett
Katharine Burr Blodgett was the daughter of a nationally renowned patent attorney for General Electric. Her father was murdered by a burglar before she was born, but she still followed in his footsteps and went to work for General Electric, albeit as their first female scientist. A true genius, Blodgett graduated from high school at the age of 15, and went on to become the first woman awarded a P.H.D. in physics from Cambridge University.
While working at GE, Blodgett was issued eight U.S. patents. Her most famous and important invention was made to help her in her research, completely clear and invisible glass.
Yvonne C. Brill
When a high school science teacher told Yvonne Brill she wouldn’t get anywhere in science as a woman, Yvonne didn’t listen. Her courage worked out for us, because Yvonne’s research into rocket science helped fuel satellites, moon landings, and even the Mars Observer. Her 1972 invention, the hydrazine resistojet propulsion system, is still being used today.
Yvonne met a lot resistance along the way, but courage, and perhaps a little stubbornness, helped push her forward and fight back. Her efforts have played a major role in paving the way for many other successful female scientists.
A wealthy socialite, Josephine Cochrane dreamed of a machine that would keep her expensive china clean, without the risk of being broken by careless workers. When her husband died, she faced a sudden change in fortune, but rose up to the challenge herself. She patented the first dishwasher machine and began to to sell them under a company that would one day evolve and become a part of KitchenAid.
Gertrude Belle Elion
Another brilliant scientist, Gertrude Belle Elion graduated from college at the young age of 19. Sadly, closed-mindedness made it difficult for her early on and prevented her from finding fitting employment. When World War II began, Elion finally found a great job as a researcher and began an illustrious career developing treatments for kidney transplant recipients and creating drugs to combat leukemia, herpes, and AIDs.
Bette Nesmith Graham
Bette Nesmith Graham was the executive secretary of a bank who needed an easier way to erase typewriter mistakes. She began to use paint and a watercolor brush at her desk, while secretly perfecting a formula with the help of her son’s chemistry teacher. Eventually she began her own company creating Mistake Out, or Liquid Paper as it was later called.
Margaret Eloise Knight
At the age of 12, inventor Margaret Eloise Knight, a textile worker, invented a safety device for textile factories, and at the age of 30 she invented the machine that made the flat, square bottomed paper bags we all use today. Her inventions included skirt shields, robe clasps, shoe machines and a window frame. All in all, this amazing female inventor had a total of 87 patents to her name.
Originally setting out to study medicine, Stephanie Kwolek began working at DuPont to raise money for her education, but instead discovered a passion for chemistry. While working to create a lightweight yet strong fiber for tires, Kwolek accidentally created Kevlar, a new fiber that was five times stronger than steel! While Kwolek signed over her patent to DuPont, she continued to research Kevlar and its derivatives.
Hedy Lamarr was a famous Hungarian-American film actress active between 1930-1950. Perhaps her least appreciated role was as an inventor in the real world. Friends with the wild aviation inventor and director Howard Hughes, Hedy spent much of her spare time creating. During WWII, Hedy worked with a pianist to invent a frequency hopping system that could be used as a jammer for radio-controlled torpedoes.
At first, the US Navy refused to look at an invention by an outsider and woman, but by the ‘60s the Navy was all aboard with Hedy’s invention. Her innovative work led to the development of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS technology. So, the next time you’re streaming a classic Hedy Lamarr film, you can thank her not only for her brilliant acting on the silver screen, but also for giving you the ability to enjoy her films all these years later from the comfort of your own laptop.
This is only a small sampling of the female inventors that have shaped our world. Throughout the history of invention, amazing women have been there creating and making some of the most innovative of ideas. As we come closer to a world that embraces the idea of #BalanceforBetter, we look forward to seeing more fascinating patents from women across the world.