When we think of the world’s greatest inventors, big names like James Watt, Thomas Edison or the Wright brothers are usually the first to spring to mind. However, the reality is that many women have been instrumental in driving scientific and technological innovation throughout the ages, with many of their inventions still widely used today.
In this blog, we outline five every-day items you didn’t know were invented by women!
1. Computer software
After joining the US Navy during the Second World War, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was assigned to work on a new computer called the Mark 1. She swiftly moved to the forefront of computer programming in the 1950s. She was behind the compiler, which could translate instructions into code that computers can read, making programming quicker and ultimately revolutionising how computers worked.
She also coined and popularised the term we apply to computer programs today, ‘de-bugging’. This occurred after a moth was removed from inside her machine. Known as ‘Amazing Grace’, she continued working with computers until she retired from the navy as its oldest serving officer at the age of 79.
2. Caller ID and call waiting
Dr Shirley Ann Jackson is a theoretical physicist, whose research from the 1970s is responsible for caller ID and call waiting. Her breakthroughs in telecommunications have also enabled others to invent the portable fax, fibre optic cables and solar cells. She is the first African-American woman to gain a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first African-American woman to lead a top-ranked research university.
3. Windscreen wiper
We often hear tired old stereotypes about women drivers, but did you know that a woman was responsible for creating the now standardised solution to combat the elements on the road? On a winter's day of 1903, Mary Anderson was visiting New York City when she noticed that her driver was forced to open his window, just to the clear the snow from his windscreen. Every time the window was open, the passengers in the car got colder. Anderson started drawing her solution of a rubber blade that could be moved from inside the car, and in 1903 was awarded a patent for her device. However, car companies at the time were reluctant to adopt the invention, believing it would distract drivers. Sadly, Mary never profited from her invention, even when the wipers later became standard on cars.
A frequent entertainer, Josephine Cochrane wanted a machine that would wash her dishes faster than her staff, and be less likely to break them. Her machine, which involved a motor turning a wheel inside a copper boiler, was the first automatic dishwasher to use water pressure. Josephine's alcoholic husband had left her with masses of debt after his death and this motivated her to patent her invention in 1886 and open her own production factory.
5. Home security system
A nurse, who was often home alone, Marie Van Brittan Brown came up with an idea that would make her feel safer. Together with her husband Albert, she developed the first home security system in response to the rising crime rates and slow police responses of the 1960s. The device was complicated, with a camera powered by a motor which moved up and down the door to look through a peephole. A monitor in her bedroom also came equipped with an alarm button.
Despite history’s best efforts to write them out of the script, thankfully we are still able to celebrate the scientific breakthroughs and achievements of women through the ages!
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