Women inventors whose creations make daily life a lot easier
Know their names
The next time you cuddle up with your best friend Netflix for a Sacred Games binge, or are mapping your way to the best gelato stall in Rome, know that you have a Hollywood actress to thank. Hedy Lamarr’s good looks made her an instant icon, but it was her beautiful brain that really changed the world.
With the exception of Marie Curie — often the only name that pops into our minds when discussing the female species’ contributions to science — women inventors have gone largely uncelebrated.
But without their efforts, many of the luxuries we are afforded today from Bluetooth speakers to windshield wipers wouldn’t exist. Here’s your crash course in unsung heroes who deserve to be household names.
Women inventors without whose creations daily life would be a lot harder
1. Hedy Lamarr
The Austrian-born American actress is known for many things. Her beauty, incredible screen presence and acting talents that she put into depicting the first on-screen female orgasm in Ecstasy (1933).
She was celebrated as one of the most beautiful women in the world, but it was only much later that she was acknowledged for her intelligence and innovations, as depicted in the documentary Bombshell.
After her passing in 2000, people began to hear about her accomplishments in the field of science and technology. Along with co-inventor George Antheil, Lamarr came up with the ‘Secret Communication System’ for the Allies during WWII – a secure radio signal that allowed Navy warships to control their torpedoes. It elaborated on Lamarr’s concept of ‘frequency hopping‘ that the Germans couldn’t intercept.
On the basis of this technology, secure Wifi, GPS and Bluetooth function as we use them today.
2. Grace Hopper
They may not have been fighting at the frontlines during the Second World War, but many women played an integral part in battle strategy and technical advancements. Like Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist and navy rear admiral who was one of the first programmers of the famous Harvard Mark I computer.
Much of the common lingo we use today — like ‘bug’ and ‘debugging’ came from her formulas and explanations.
Hopper and Howard H. Aiken (conceptual designer of Mark I) co-authored 3 papers about the Mark I. She simplified the language of data programming, making it more accessible.
In 1949 she joined the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation team that was developing the UNIVAC I, the first large-scale electronic computer to hit the market in 1950.
3. Elizabeth Magie
You may not know Elizabeth Magie, but you’re definitely familiar with her playful invention. She created a board game, The Landlord’s Game, which over time would turn into Monopoly. Monopoly causes more destruction at game nights (where game boards get destroyed as well) than parlour didi to your eyebrows.
Magie intended her invention to be an educational game that would simply teach people about Georgism. She got a patent in 1904, little knowing that it would inspire the creation of one of the most popular (and its more divisive cousin, Monopoly Deal) games in history.
4. Mary Anderson
It was a particularly frosty in the winter of 1903. Mary Anderson was touring New York city in a trolley car. She observed the trolley driver, and other drivers on the road as well, struggling to see through the windows on that snowy day. People would even stop on the side to clean the window.
She was struck with an idea – a lever inside the car that would operate a spring-operated wiping arm outside the window with a rubber blade.
In 1903, she got her patent, making it the first windshield wiper. She tried to bring it to the growing automotive industry, but was largely dismissed, with one firm stating, “we do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale.” Can you imagine a drive through Mumbai monsoons without it?
5. Bette Nesmith Graham
Before there was autocorrect, there was ripping up what you had typed and starting all over again. Bette Nesmith Graham decided to instead use white paint to cover her typos, and eventually her invention became Liquid Paper. (She got super rich) #WomenInnovate #WomensHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/oCvHEHmxUq
— CSI Toronto (@csiTO) March 8, 2018
Picture sitting for an examination, opening your pencil case and finding no whitener? White-out is probably one thing all students can agree is a real life-saver, a thought that first occurred to Bette Nesmith Graham. She joined the women inventors club by accident when she worked as an executive secretary at Texas Bank and Trust.
Using an electric typewriter, she realised how difficult it was to correct any errors that were made. She came up with a creative fix.
She noticed that “an artist never corrects by erasing, but always paints over the error. So I decided to use what artists use. I put some white water-based tempera paint in a bottle and took a watercolour brush to the office. I used that to correct my mistakes.”
She used her mix to correct typing errors, even had colleagues clamouring to use some. She decided to market her kitchen concoction under the name ‘Mistake Out’, which eventually became the base of a multimillion-dollar company called Liquid Paper, the essential in all stationery kits.
6. Florence Parpart
Not much is known about Florence Parpart, other than the fact that she got her first patent in 1900 for an improved ‘street sweeper’ which was then manufactured for wide use, and her second which changed the world.
She invented the modern electric refrigerator.
While cooling mechanisms for food preservations had existed for many years before her, Parpart took it to another level as an entrepreneur and made it her business. Thank you, Ms Parpart, for helping us keep our ice cream from melting.