11 Historic Women Inventors You Should Thank Every Day

Sheena Joseph | Feb 17 2021
Image credits: BP Creation

Many of the technologies we use today were invented back in the day by women who set out to make life easier. Without their inventions, life would have been a lot different. And yet, they are not celebrated like their male counterparts. Here are some of the female inventors and their inventions you use every day.

1) Gladys West - GPS

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Born in 1930, Gladys West is an American mathematician known for contributions that led to the invention of a fully functioning GPS. She created the mathematical model of the shape of the Earth and worked on the development of the satellite geodesy models. Everything from Google Maps to navigation apps stems from West's works. She was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018.

2) Nancy Johnson - The Ice-cream Maker

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Nancy Johnson (1794-1890) was a housewife living in Philadelphia. She invented the hand-cranked ice cream churner to reduce the intensive labour and the amount of time it took to make ice creams back then. She filed for a patent in 1843. Prior to Johnson's invention, ice cream was made using the pot freezer method. This unpredictable method often ended up giving lumpy ice cream. Her ice cream maker revolutionised the process and played a part in its popularity.

3) Grace Hopper - The Computer

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Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (1906-1992) is an American computer scientist known for creating the theory of machine-independent programming languages. She invented the FLOW-MATIC programming language and the high-level programming language called COBOL which is still in use. She joined Navy Reserves during World War II. In 1949, she was part of the team that developed the UNIVAC I computer. Her alma mater, Yale University renamed a college in her honour. In her lifetime, she was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities across the world.

4) Elizabeth Magie - Monopoly

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Elizabeth J Phillips aka Lizzie Magie (1866-1948) was a game designer. She is known for inventing The Landlord's Game, which later became Monopoly. She designed the game to illustrate the teachings of the progressive era economist Henry George. After working a while as a stenographer, Magie invented a way to allow the paper to go through the rollers of the typewriter more easily. She was 26 years old when she received the patent for this invention.

5) Maria Beasley - The Life Raft

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Maria E. Beasley (1847-1904) was an inventor and entrepreneur. She is best known for inventing the life raft. Her design was fire-proof, compact, safe, and readily launched. Before her success with life raft, she had a few successful years in barrel-making machines. She had 15 different patents in the US and two patents in the UK. Her design for the life raft was patented in 1882.

6) Stephanie Kwolek - Kevlar

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Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014) is an American chemist known for inventing Kevlar, the material used to make bicycle tires, bulletproof vests, gloves, loudspeakers, structural components of cars, brake pads, and smartphones. She worked at the DuPont company for over 40 years and she was awarded DuPont company's Lavoisier Medal for inventing Kevlar. In her long career as a research scientist, she received over 20 patents.

7) Jeanne Villepreux-Power - Aquarium

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Jeanne Villepreux-Power (1794-1871) is a French marine biologist known for creating aquariums to experiment with marine organisms. She is known as the "mother of aquariophilie". She became fascinated with the marine ecosystems while doing an inventory of Sicily. She later became the first woman member of Catania Accademia Gioenia and a correspondent member of the London Zoological Society. She went on to become part of 16 other learned societies.

8) Josephine Cochrane - Mechanical Dishwasher

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Josephine Cochrane (1839-1913) is known for inventing the first commercially successful automatic dishwasher. She designed it in a shed behind her home because the chore of washing dishes was boring to her. She is rumoured to have said: "If nobody else is going to invent the dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself!" She put the new machine at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and received interest from restaurants and hotels. She also won the highest prize at the fair for "best mechanical construction, durability, and adaptation to its line of work".

9) Hedy Lamarr - Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

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Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) was an American actress and inventor. She was part of 30 movies for over 28 years. However, she was intrigued by machines. She had no formal training and was self-taught. After spending her spare time inventing, she ended up working with a team during World War II. After realising that radio-controlled torpedoes can be easily jammed, she created a frequency-hopping signal. Bluetooth and WiFi are legacy versions of her inventions. Her partner George Antheil said in an interview that Hedy was not only involved in the "creative work on the invention" but also the "really important chemical part".

10) Mary Anderson - Windshield Wipers

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Mary Anderson (1866-1953) is the one to thank every time you use windshield wipers of your car. She was granted her first patent in 1903 for inventing an automatic car window cleaning device controlled from inside the car. Until then, drivers of trolley cars had to lean out of the window to clear the sights in case of bad weather. While the thought of changing it rarely occurred to anyone, Anderson was an entrepreneur who saw a problem to be solved. However, she did not make any money from her invention as cars were not popular at the time. 

11) Melitta Bentz - Coffee Filter

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Melitta Bentz (1873-1950) is known for inventing the paper coffee filter brewing system. She also founded the company 'Melitta' which is still run by her family. Today, Melitta Group KG has about 3,300 employees in 50 nations. She was a housewife who was bothered by the over-brewing due to percolators and lack of smoothness of espresso machines. She addressed the issue of linen bag filters which were hard to clean. She experimented with many materials. In the end, she found the perfect material in the blotting paper from her son's school book.