Think about how we define history – military powers, philosophers that completely altered the way humans think and perceive things, and individuals who did things that changed life as it was known. Part of that is inventions. We love to recall inventions that changed life on Earth and the people who discovered them. In the vast majority of historical writings, men that made such discoveries are the primary focus. However, there are a great number of women who should be included, as well. Some of the most revolutionary inventions came from women. Keep reading to see some examples.
The Electric Refrigerator
There was a time when the only way to keep foods fresh and cool was with the icebox. This was a shelving unit packed with snow during the winter months. It was a hard-labor effort to keep the icebox going. That’s because there was no electricity to maintain the temperature.
Florence Parpart reasoned that by running gas through an icebox, electricity could generate and keep the icebox at a constant temperature. By turning various liquids into gases, such as Freon, they draw in heat from the outside and away from the food. It requires refrigerants – a circuit of absorption and expansion of the gas in different compartments so that the liquid isn’t all absorbed and needs to be refilled again. She mastered the process and filed the appropriate patents, making her the inventor of the refrigerator.
While driving in the rain, have you ever wondered how those windshield wipers came into being? On November 10, 1903, Mary Anderson filed the patent for a device that reached to the outside windows from inside the car and cleaned the glass in rain or snow.
The previous winter, as trolley cars roll by, Anderson realized that drivers had to stick their heads out of their car windows in snowy weather to be safe on the roads. And thus, the windshield wiper idea was born.
Anderson was issued a 17-year patent in 1903. But when Anderson tried to sell her idea to companies, particularly a Canadian firm, she was told that her invention was useless. Her patent expired in 1920. It was only after that time that the US automobile industry took off, and windshield wipers became a staple for drivers around the world. Anderson never received a penny for her invention.
The One-Handed Syringe
Medicine is a tricky thing. There’s not much you can do to introduce new things other than trial and error. This can result in death and destruction or salvation.
This was the plight of the syringe. On February 12, 1896, Letitia Mumford Geer filed the first application for a patent on the one-handed syringe. There had been many trial-and-error experiments with needles up to this point. But none were as useful as the one-handed model. It was easily operable by both medical staff and patients, including people with diabetes who needed to self-administer insulin.
The one-handed syringe eventually evolved into the disposable version in use today. Geer’s model helped to shape the future in how we get things into and out of our bodies.
Actress Hedy Lamarr was a Nazi Germany refugee who had come to America to escape Nazi Germany and build a new life. She was destined for stardom and would share the stage with some of Hollywood’s biggest names and talent of the day.
But before her stardom in the States, Lamarr was a World War II communications expert. She had worked with a composer to find ways for devices to reduce the signal issues in telecommunications. This design became fundamental in Wi-Fi. It would also eventually lead to the development of technology for cellphones.
Lamarr’s technology was given away for free to bring the Nazis down. However, she never received any money for her invention. But her efforts likely saved many lives during the war.
Finally, about 50 years later, she got some recognition for her invention with an award. Lamarr lived out the died in Orlando at age 86.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Almost everyone loves a good chocolate chip cookie. Ruth Graves Wakefield is the person we need to thank. Incredibly enough, the chocolate chip cookie started as an accident.
One day in 1930, Wakefield was preparing a batch of chocolate butter drop cookies. As she prepared to put baker’s chocolate in the mix, she discovered there was none to be had. She then took a regular chocolate bar, cut it into pieces, placed it into the cookies, and hoped that the chocolate would spread throughout the cookies equally when they baked.
She was wrong. But everyone loved these tasty mistakes. It helped that she was at the Toll House Inn and was a lecturer on adequate food preparations. With an audience predisposed to loving what she made, the Chocolate Chip Cookie Era had begun.
Electric Water Heater
Perhaps it happens less frequently during the current plague, but at least from time to time, you indulge in a hot shower. In 1917, Ida Forbes was officially awarded the patent for the first electric water heater, making those showers possible. How much does this matter? She is still being thanked in advertisements and even on products with her original design on them today.
Electric water heaters started as small, portable models. Midsize closet units came next, and eventually, massive models for larger accommodations came along. Nearly all water that isn’t used for cooking is heated with a descendant of one of these units.
Do you like a good IPA? How about a dark stout? Would you believe the process that perfected that beer in your cup was initially carried out by women?
It is believed beer was “invented” by accident when attempts to make bread went awry over 10,000 years ago. Beers that were intentionally made came about in the Fertile Crescent approximately 7,000–9,000 years ago.
Women oversaw the brewing process until medieval and modern Christianity came about. At that point, beer-making was taken over by men – usually, monks who decided to live on beer alone for months.
Still, as time moved on, the recipes were crafted and perfected by anonymous women who painstakingly created the best beer they could for their communities. Since labor was divided among the genders for centuries into many cultures, this makes sense.
So as you enjoy your favorite brew, imagine the countless hours of effort and entrepreneurship which have gone into crafting that perfect drink just for you and be thankful that so many women were involved in its evolution.