We use so many of our modern, daily conveniences without a thought to their origins.
When I learned about these inventions, it all made sense to me. Of course, women thought of these innovations for their practicality and function! You will agree these women deserve worldwide thanks!
Josephine Cochrane, born in 1839, was a socialite and often entertained guests at her and husband, William’s home. Annoyed with her fine china chipping, she came up with the idea of a dishwasher to gently clean and protect her fine china.
She designed and built her machine using water jets and dish racks to hold the dinnerware in place in a shed behind her home. Josephine patented her design in 1886 calling it the Cochrane Dishwasher.
She formed Cochran’s Crescent Washing Machine Company and mainly sold it to hotels and restaurants. In 1893, she presented her invention at the Chicago’s World Fair and she won an award for its design and durability.
In the 1950s, women’s attitudes about housework changed, along with improved dishwasher soap and the dishwasher became a staple of the American kitchen. The name of Cochrane’s company became KitchenAid!
Some other notable women who improved our kitchens as we know them today include Florence Parpart. In 1914, she invented the electric refrigerator keeping our food fresh and ready to use.
She successfully marketed and sold her refrigerators across the USA making her a double threat-both inventor and businesswoman.
Nancy Johnson is responsible for one of our favorite treats summer or winter. She invented the hand-cranked ice cream maker in 1843. Even with the arrival of electric ice cream machines, her hand-cranked version is still available and used today. Yum!
Margaret Knight began working at the age of 12 in a New Hampshire textile mill. After a fellow employee became injured by faulty equipment, the young Knight created a safety device for textile looms. Margaret became a prolific inventor and was often compared to Thomas Edison, dubbed by journalists as “Lady Edison”.
She received her first patent for a machine which cut, folded and glued flat-bottomed paper bags. This patent was a hard-earned one in that a certain Charles Annan stole and patented her invention without giving Margaret credit. She engaged him in a legal battle and won in 1871 claiming the patent as solely hers. She obtained over 27 patents ranging from dress shields, a machine for cutting soles for shoes, sewing machine reels to a rotary engine.
In 1965, Stephanie Kwolek was working for DuPont when she was assigned to formulating new synthetic fibers. As she experimented with a liquid crystal solution of polymers, she created a new fiber which was lightweight and ultra-strong.
DuPont later expanded her invention into Kevlar, which has been widely used for items ranging from the bullet-proof vest, to work gloves, building materials, and fiber optics.
This Kevlar bulletproof vest is one example of Stephanie Kwolek’s fiber research. No wonder Kwolek was awarded the National Medal of Technology for her research on synthetic fibers. She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1994.
And of course, I have always been a fan of actress Hedy Lamar. Recently, I enjoyed watching the documentary “Bombshell” about her interesting life. Seems she had more going for her than just beauty. No surprise here, women!
During WWII, Lamar and George Anthiel invented “frequency hopping”, a secret communications system which helped combat the Nazis. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the system formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by the enemy.
Lamar and her partner received a patent in 1941, but it wasn’t until decades later that its significance was realized. It was used on naval ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis and then in many more military applications. The “spread spectrum” technology formed the backbone for cellular phones, fax machines, GPS and Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies.
Lamar received little recognition or monetary rewards for her invention until late in her life. She and partner Antheil were honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award in 1997. The same year Lamar became the first female recipient of the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award which is a prestigious lifetime prize for inventors that is fittingly referred to as “The Oscar of Inventing.”