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The Mothers of Inventions - Do you know who they are?

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.

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Nobody is Going to be Surprised


Nobody is going to be surprised to learn that a woman invented the first disposable diaper and the dishwasher. Who but a woman would notice these were needs that should be met in a more efficient manner? But did you know it was a woman who invented the bullet-stopping fabric, Kevlar? A woman invented the first commercial computer language and another invented the windshield wiper.

Stephanie Kwolek took a position at DuPont in 1946 so she could save enough money to go to medical school. Eight years later she was researching how to turn polymers into extra strong synthetic fibers that were ounce-for-ounce as strong as steel. Kevlar has been used to manufacture skis, radial tires and brake pads, suspension bridge cables, helmets, and hiking and camping gear. But it is best known for making bulletproof vests used daily by policemen and soldiers. Kwolek may have never fulfilled her dream of going to medical school, but there are many who literally owe their lives to her invention.

Navy Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was the third person to program the first large-scale computer in the United States in the 1950s. And, leave it to a woman, she was the first one to think about those who would come after her and write a manual of operations for future use.. She also invented the compiler, a device that translates English commands into computer code, making it easier to create more accurate code. This invention along with developing the first user-friendly programing language, COBOL, led to the first computers becoming available commercially. Not many inventors, male or female, can say for their efforts, a U.S. warship was named after them.

Mary Anderson of Alabama visited New York City in early 1900. While sightseeing she noticed the tram driver had to stop and go outside to wipe the snow off his front window. This inconvenience was also how drivers cleaned their windshields in that day even though it left much to be desired in the visibility department. Back home in Alabama, Anderson developed a tool operated from inside the vehicle that cleaned the outside of the glass using a squeegee on a spindle. Anderson received the patent for her device in 1903. In short order her invention became standard equipment on American, and eventually all cars.

T'was Not Always Thus

In 1715 a woman’s intellectual property was something she could no more be the owner of than her land or her money. American colonist Sybilla Masters, after watching Indian women at work, invented a more efficient way to turn corn into cornmeal. Women couldn't own property, so the patent for her invention was issued in the name of her husband, Thomas.

Almost one hundred years later, Mary Kies was the first American woman to earn a patent in her own name. She developed a way of weaving straw and silk together to create beautiful hats and was issued a patent in 1809. Her invention invigorated the economy of all of New England because the U.S. government had stopped importing European goods to avoid being drawn into the Napoleonic wars.

In 1810, Tabitha Babbitt created a prototype of the circular saw that would eventually be used in saw mills. She observed men cutting wood with a pit saw, a two-handled saw that required two men to pull it back and forth though it only cut when pulled forward. The return stroke was useless and appeared to Babbitt to be a waste of energy and time.

In 1845, Sarah Mather patented the submarine telescope and lamp, giving the world its first look at the floor of the ocean. (Many searches revealed no further information on this woman!)

When Martha Coston was widowed in 1847, she was the sole support of her four children. While searching for a means of providing for her family, she found her late husband’s plans for a flare system that ships could use to communicate at night. When tested, the system failed. She worked for the next ten years revising and perfecting her husband's design for a colored flare system. She hit upon the idea of applying some pyrotechnic technology to her flare system after taking her children to a fireworks exhibition. The flare system finally worked, and the U.S. Navy bought the rights. Coston produced 1,200,000 flares for the Navy during the Civil War at the cost of $120,000. The Navy only paid her $15,000, the amount they determined was reasonable to pay a woman.

Sarah E. Goode, born a slave in 1850, was granted the first patent by an African American woman inventor for her folding cabinet bed. It could be used as a desk with compartments for storage when space was too limited to leave the bed unfolded.

In 1886, Josephine Cochrane said, "If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself." It wasn’t that she spent her time washing dishes. She was just sick and tired of her servants breaking her heirloom china after fancy dinners at her home in Shelbyville, Illinois. Not many homes in those days had the hot water heaters necessary to run it. More affluent homeowners resisted paying for something their housewives did for free. So Cochrane pitched her product to large hotels and restaurants, selling them on the fact that the dishwasher could do the job they were paying several dozen employees to do.

Ever hear of a board game called “Monopoly”? In 1904 Lizzie Magie invented it in its original form and called it “The Landlords Game.”

Marion Donovan invented a disposable diaper in the early 1940s. The reason it took so long to become available at the local grocery store may have been that she sold the invention for one million dollars in 1946 so she could spend her time on other inventions.

Hedy Lamarr was a famous Hollywood actress in the 1940s. Known primarily for her beauty, she was also a mathematician and an inventor. In 1942, Lamarr, along with composer George Anthiel, received a patent for a system of radio frequency-hopping. This invention allowed radios to guide torpedoes without interference. Their early technique made wireless communication possible in the days before computer technology.

Bette Nesmith Graham created in her home blender the product Liquid Paper and received a patent in 1958. She was inspired by department store holiday window painters who fixed mistakes by painting over them. (Fun fact: Her son, Michael Nesmith, grew up to be a member of the 1960s rock group the Monkees.)

In 1983 Barbara McClintock, an American scientist and cytogeneticist, became the first woman to win, unshared, the Nobel Prize. It was awarded to her in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of a genetic mechanism called transposition.

Laugh Now – But One Day

One day Frances Gabe will be remembered for her 1984 patent for a self-cleaning house. Each room has a 10-inch square Cleaning/ Drying/ Heating/ Cooling device on the ceiling. At the push of a button, the cleaning unit sends a powerful spray of soapy water around the room and then rinses and blow-dries everything. Each room has a sloped floor to aid the water drainage, and all valuable objects and other things that should not get wet are stored under glass. The house in Oregon features self-cleaning sinks, bathtubs, and toilets; and closets that can clean and dry the clothes hung inside them.

Home Depot and Lowes: are you paying attention?


Comments

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on April 06, 2020:

Stay well and if you are looking for something to read while we wait this virus out - I've reduced my six ebooks on Amazon to $0.99 each. Enjoy - I hope!

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 01, 2019:

Written Out of History - The Smithsonian

Thanks for your comments and encouragement.

Suzie from Carson City on March 01, 2019:

Kathleen....Very interesting and educational, Thank you. I seriously enjoy history, especially when famous women are showcased. In the cases of so many of these brilliant women, I can't help but wonder why I do not recall ever hearing a mere mention of their names,much less their incredible accomplishments throughout my educational tenure.....Oh wait, there was Betsy Ross, Florence Nightingale & Rosie the Riveter!).....that's about it.

If I may, allow me to "share." I have a similar article to offer. 2nd Title up from the bottom on my profile page. "Famed Female Trail Blazers." Here, Here! Hail to the Fairer Sex.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 01, 2019:

Thanks for the reads this month. I just read an article in The National Review on the most/least mentioned women in our school's history books. Fascinating and we need to do better documenting our history.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 08, 2019:

I'm ashamed to admit I didn't realize the Equal Rights Amendment is still possible to be ratified. Thank goodness a lack of equal rights didn't stand in the way of these inventive women!

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 19, 2017:

This the season to celebrate women inventors!

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on January 17, 2017:

"Hidden Figures" made me think of this hub. As Suzette said, "It is so interesting to read of these women inventors who have not be heralded nationally or internationally."

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on August 27, 2016:

Thanks Suzette!

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on August 26, 2016:

Wonderful article! It is so interesting to read of these women inventors who have not be heralded nationally or internationally. What a shame. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on August 26, 2016:

Thanks thumbi7 amd Chitrangada!!

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on August 26, 2016:

Great hub about women inventors~ Hats off to them for making our lives easier and thanks to you for sharing such important information!

Enjoyed going through your hub and learnt a lot from it!

JR Krishna from India on August 26, 2016:

Very interesting hub

Thanks for sharing

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on August 26, 2016:

P73: Thanks for the information. Only makes the hub better.

Dirt Farmer: Thanks and welcome to my hubs!

Mike Russo from Placentia California on August 26, 2016:

Great Hub. As always, very informative and also very entertaining. I have one thing to add about Hedy Lamarr's invention. Frequency Hopping is used today in all of our cell phones for the Blue Tooth function and also for encryption of data for security purposes in data transmissions. It is also used in military Radar systems to prevent jamming by the enemy.

Jill Spencer from United States on August 26, 2016:

Yay, Frances Gabe-- and all the rest! And cheers to you for spotlighting their remarkable work.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 02, 2016:

Greensleeves: You make two very good points and thank you for adding them to the discussion. Changes to lighten the workloads: I don't know how many new houses I've looked through and come away saying, that builder must have listened to his wife about where to put the laundry room or the pantry or a mud room or back stairs or any number of improvements to traditional houses. When you are the one who has to live with it, you do know more about how to improve on it.

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on February 02, 2016:

Interesting list of inventors Kathleen - well compiled. I guess maybe, the one historical advantage women had to set against all the disadvantages in making a name for themselves and being recognised in their own right, would be that they often had the more practical experience particularly in households, to see a need for change to lighten workloads.

One thing that Au Fait said in the Comments was pertinent - girls in education still tend to be in the minority when it comes to science and technology, and perhaps need the incentivising example of women like this to encourage more to take up these important subjects.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on September 22, 2015:

I'm with you, ArtDiva. Thanks for the encouragement!

ArtDiva on September 21, 2015:

Women rock! Keep this series up and out front. Good read, Kathleen!

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on October 24, 2014:

jennabee25: Hope I can manage to pull you into some others! Welcome and thanks for commenting.

Jenn Dixon from PA on October 24, 2014:

Your photo of Hedy Lamarr pulled me into this hub. She laid the basis for cellular phone technology with her research. Great info here!

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on October 20, 2014:

Yes, I should remember what I write! It's been a few months . . .

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on October 20, 2014:

"In 1886, Josephine Cochrane said, "If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself." It wasn’t that she spent her time washing dishes. She was just sick and tired of her servants breaking her heirloom china after fancy dinners at her home in Shelbyville, Illinois. Not many homes in those days had the hot water heaters necessary to run it. More affluent homeowners resisted paying for something their housewives did for free. So Cochrane pitched her product to large hotels and restaurants, selling them on the fact that the dishwasher could do the job they were paying several dozen employees to do."

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on October 20, 2014:

Rebecca, thank God times have changed, yes?

Jodah, who is Josephine Cochrane? Excuse my ignorance. And I'm sure we started out at Cochranes and somebody dropped the e.

Tillsontitan, what can I say? I love research and the people with the patience to read the results of it! Thanks.

Mary Craig from New York on October 19, 2014:

I always know when I read your hubs Kathleen, I will learn something and this was no exception. What makes it even better is your style and attention to detail!

I had a friend I worked with many years ago in X-ray. She said we needed a house with cement floors and a drain in the middle so we could just wash dirt away...imagine!

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on October 19, 2014:

Some amazing women mentioned here Kathleen. I knew about Hedy Lamarr...incredible beauty and brains....but most of the others are new to me. Thank you for sharing this interesting hub. p.s. are you relate to Josephine Cochrane...? No you are Cochran...I guess not.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on October 19, 2014:

Full of interesting facts. It's good to know how some really important inventions are the ideas of women. Sad to think that one of them had to give the credit to her husband, and glad that times have changed. A good read!

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on November 30, 2013:

Au fait: Thanks so much for spreading this one around. Girls need to know there was a time when they didn't get credit for their brains. Many female inventions will never be known.

Research is my old reporter/self coming out in me.

Hope your holidays are merry!

C E Clark from North Texas on November 30, 2013:

I'm surprised you could find information on all of these things. An incredible article that should be required reading of all young girls by the 4th grade. Voted up, awesome, pinned to my 'Exceptional Women' board, and will share.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on November 14, 2013:

mythbuster: Well, by your handle I think I can take this comment as high praise. Sounds like you ought to know! Thanks for the read and the comments.

mythbuster from Utopia, Oz, You Decide on November 14, 2013:

Hi Kathleen Cochran! I'm not too sure about the self-cleaning house yet, but it's wonderful that you've found and written about things invented by women. I was surprised by the liquid paper invention and the circular saw. Neat stuff.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on November 13, 2013:

Vellur: Welcome to my hubs. Thanks for giving this one a read!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on November 13, 2013:

Great hub, informative and useful. What would we have done without these inventions! Thank you for sharing. Voted up.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on July 19, 2013:

Jackie Lynnley: Thanks for the comments and (I think!) welcome to my hubs. I like research and giving it my own spin. Hope you have time to read some of my others. I have one on First Ladies you might like.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on July 18, 2013:

Very interesting and fun read. ^

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on June 14, 2013:

Kathleen, this hub is a revelation; I had no idea women were behind the inventions of so many things.

Very interesting.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 13, 2013:

kapilddit: Welcome to my hubs. Glad you found this one. It was fun research.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 09, 2013:

Thank you. Thank you. But you are supposed to be writing your syllabus young lady!

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on June 08, 2013:

Kathleen - this is very interesting, Some great women inventors. Sharing. :)

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 07, 2013:

Elias: Is this your first visit to my hubs? If so, welcome and hope you find more you like. I had no idea about Lamarr and checked a couple of sources before I included her. She did have a collaborator, but still pretty impressive.

Faith: Thanks for the following. Hope your circle of hubbers find this hub an interesting read as well. Always encouraging to hear from you.

Elias Zanetti from Athens, Greece on June 07, 2013:

A well researched and informative hub, Kathleen. I was familiar with Hedy Lamarr's hollywood career (some of her films were quite daring, even scandalous for their time) but I didn't know about her math background or her invention. Voted and shared.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on June 06, 2013:

Fascinating read here! However, I am not surprised about all of these woman. I would love that self-cleaning house :) !!!

Voted up ++ and sharing

Blessings, Faith Reaper

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 06, 2013:

billybuc: Explains a lot, doesn't it?

anndango: The research said we may never know all the inventions of women due to the early years when everything was in the father or husband's name. There were many more I didn't include. It was a fun hub to do.

anndango on June 06, 2013:

Yay, very interesting read! It's a shame women aren't given as much attention for innovations and inventions as men. Quite often one assumes it was had to be a man. Thanks for setting a few things right! Voted up, interesting and sharing.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 06, 2013:

Great research and very interesting facts. So, we have a woman to thank for Monopoly, huh? I may never forgive her. LOL