• Notes From The Frontier

Inventions by Women (But Men Got the Credit!)


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 who 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 even was 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 posts that may interest you:

-15 Tools Pioneers Needed to Survive

https://www.notesfromthefrontier.com/post/tools-pioneers-needed-to-survive

-The Iroquois Fire of 1903

https://www.notesfromthefrontier.com/post/the-iroquois-theater-fire-of-1903

-The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

https://www.notesfromthefrontier.com/post/the-triangle-shirtwaist-fire


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