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Inventions by Women (But Men Often Got the Credit!)

Updated: Mar 24, 2021


Women have always had to be tough. Pioneer women in the American West proved their mettle and moxy far beyond what we will ever know. The same can be said for their sisters across the country who were pioneering inventors, many of whom were housewives or factory workers, but still found time to dream and put their dreams into patent design. Many women invented some of the most valuable machines and products in our culture today. But many more never got credit for it. Oftentimes their husbands, co-workers or bosses not only patented the inventions and reaped the monetary benefits, they also got the credit for the ideas, one was even awarded the Nobel Prize!

One of the most famous cases is the cotton gin. We all learned in elementary school that Eli Whitney was attributed with inventing the cotton gin. But many historians believe that a woman named Catharine Greene, the extraordinary wife of Revolutionary War General Nathaneal Greene, was really the brain behind the invention. After her husband died of sunstroke in 1786, she was left destitute and alone to raise five children by herself on a cotton plantation in Georgia.


In 1792, she rented out a room in her home to a young man named Eli Whitney, who also worked for her as a handyman. Whitney was from New England and was unfamiliar with cotton farming but Catharine and her husband had been vexed by the difficulty of raising green-seed cotton and separating cotton from the seeds. She told Eli of the problem and had an idea for creating a machine with teeth that might make the process much easier. She paid him to build such a machine. His first design featured wooden teeth and worked very poorly. He nearly gave up but Catharine suggested using wire instead of wood and it worked. At the time, women could not file patents. But she was happy enough to be able to use the machine on her plantation. When Eli Whitney tried to charge local farmers what they thought were exorbitant fees for use of the machine, they started building their own. And the cotton gin would make cotton the cash crop of the entire South. But Whitney got the credit for inventing the cotton gin in the pages of history.

In 1810, a Shaker woman and weaver named Tabitha Babbit saw two men struggling to cut wood with a pit saw. She had the idea of creating a circular saw that would run in one direction and be much more efficient and her design was used in a Shaker sawmill in 1813. Because of her Shaker beliefs, she did not want to make money from her idea. Three years later, however, two men read about her invention and filed the patent for themselves.

The famous statesman and poet, Lord Byron, had a daughter, Ada Lovelace, who was a mathematical genius and one of the world’s first computer inventors, though her role is often minimized by male historians. In 1843, at age 20, Lovelace collaborated with inventor Charles Babbage at the University of London to invent a prototype of a computer. Her considerable body of research and detailed notes indicate she was the first person to develop computer programming and algorithms. Although Babbage has been credited in history with the invention and male historians for two centuries have dismissed Ada, even Babbage’s own memoirs give Ada credit for developing the algorithms and an equal contribution in the invention.

Other female inventors managed to file patents for their ideas and work. In 1845, Sarah Mather invented a “submarine telescope” that would be used to investigate damaged ship hulls underwater and later, enemy activity during the Civil War.

In 1882, Maria Beasley had already made a fortune after inventing and patenting a barrel-hooping machine, when she patented her design for a life raft. Exactly 30 years later, her life rafts were installed on the Titanic and would save more than 700 souls who poured into the life ragts.

In 1887, inventor Anna Connelly registered a patent for an exterior steel staircase to be used as an exterior fire escape. Multi-story tenement buildings were notorious for deadly fires and killed thousands each year. The exterior fire escape would revolutionize building construction across the country and save thousands of lives annually.

Of course, many cases of women’s contributions to scientific advancement and inventions are lost to history and we’ll never know. But the truth managed to seep out regarding some inventions. And some women managed to successfully file patents that dramatically changed American lives, saved lives and improved lives. Following is just a short list of inventions by women that will surprise you.

1. Cotton Gin – 1773 – Catharine Littlefield Greene

2. Circular saw -1812- Tabitha Babbitt

3. Aquarium – 1832 – Jeanne Villepreux-Power

4. Computer programming – 1843- Ada Lovelace

5. Ice Cream Make – 1843-Nancy Johnson

6. Computer Algorithm – 1943- Ada Lovelace

7. Submarine Telescope – 1845- Sarah Mather

8. Paper-bag Machine – 1871- Margaret Knight

9. Dishwasher – 1872 -Jospephine Cochran

10. Globes – 1875- Ellen Fitz

11. Locomotive, Industrial & Residential Chimney-1879-Mary Walton

12. Locomotive Noise Reduction-1881-Mary Walton

13. Life Raft – 1882 – Maria Beasley

14. Fire Escape – 1887 – Anna Connelly

15. Ironing Board – 1892- Sarah Boone

16. Car Heater – 1893- Margaret A. Wilcox

17. Medical Syringe – 1899-Letician Geer

18. Street Sweeper-1900-Florence Parpart

19. Windshield Wiper -1903-Mary Anderson

20. Monopoly Game – 1904-Elizabeth Magie

21. Coffee filter – 1908 – Melitta Benz

22. Electric Refrigerator – 1914- Florence Parpart

23. Electric Hot Water Heater – 1917-Ida Forbes

24. Airplane Muffler – 1917-El Dorado Jones

25. Central Heating – 1919- Alice Parker

Other related posts you may find interesting:

-15 Tools Pioneers Needed to Survive

-The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire


"Inventions by Women (But Men Got the Credit!)" was first published on April 26, 2020 on Facebook and NotesfromtheFrontier.com

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Notes From The Frontier
Notes From The Frontier
26 באפר׳ 2020

Yes! Hedy Lemarr is such a great example! Thank you for mentioning this point. I could have included lists with hundreds of examples going into the 20th and 21st centuries. Even today women comprise more than 50% of Ph.D.s in scientific research but comprise only 10% of scientific patents. But this is slowly changing...

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hightechexec1
hightechexec1
26 באפר׳ 2020

Great reading - A little later in history and relevant today was that of Hedy Lamarr, actress. Her greatest scientific triumph was intended for the US navy during the second world war, but is now used in modern wireless communication. Her “secret communication system” used “frequency hopping” to guide radio-controlled missiles underwater in a way that was undetectable by the enemy - The Navy eventually used it after WWII. Her patent granted in 1942 eventually expired since she didn't know it had to be renewed after 10 years, the concept leading to WIFI was picked up by others, she didn't make a dime, for a long time received no credit and today most people have no clue of her contribution…

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Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular NotesfromtheFrontier.com blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook

 

Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  

 

Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on DeborahHufford.com, Facebook, and Instagram.

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