Women Who Hold a Patent (1975 and before)

Fiona Waters

January 24, 2021

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If you've read Fizza's article, you know that for every one patent held by a woman, there are roughly seven patents held by a man. As more women join STEM fields, file more patents, and their accomplishments become more visible, more women will become inventors. Here are a few women inventors that can serve as inspirations to design your next product.

Of only four African-American women to own a patent before the end of the 19th century, Sarah Goode was the first in 1888. New York was urbanizing, and housing space was at a premium. She and her husband learned about this issue at their furniture store in Chicago, Illinois. It prompted Goode to invent the "cabinet bed," a bed that folded out into a writing desk.

Mary Anderson never saw a penny for her invention, but while riding a streetcar in a snowstorm in 1903, she saw how badly the driver needed a tool to wipe the snow off of the windshield. On that very ride, she sketched the first design for a "windshield wiper." Her patent expired before it gained popularity.

Mary Phelps Jacob hated wearing her corset. Before her invention, women were confined by whalebones and steel rods. Fed up, she sewed two handkerchiefs together and attended a party wearing the garment. It was a hit. Friends, family, and strangers asked her to make them one. Thus, in 1913, Jacob patented the "Backless Brassiere" under the name "Caress Crosby."

Hedy Lamarr is best known as an actress, starring in a number of movies in the 1930s and '40s, but she was also a prolific inventor. Her most significant invention, which she patented in 1941, was for a radio signal that could not be jammed. It proved useful during World War II for use in radio-guided torpedoes. This concept of "radio hopping" or "spread spectrum" is what Bluetooth and Wi-Fi operate on today.

Marie Van Brittan Brown worked as a nurse and her husband as an electronics technician; their hours were not the normal 9 to 5, and they worried about the security of their home. To resolve the issue, Brown created a "peephole" camera with a microphone so that she could monitor who was at her front door from her bedroom. Created in 1966, this invention lead to modern CCTV and security systems.

Marion Donovan was a mother to a baby still in diapers when, out of frustration for the leakiness of cloth diapers, she cut up her shower curtain and sewed it into a garment that would cover the diaper. When she approached manufacturers in the year 1975, they vouched for the popularity of their water-proof "baby pants." So, Marion sold her invention herself. With a total of 20 patents under her name, including a dental floss device, Donovan was a successful businesswoman.

To add to the conversation, Dr. Nilanjana Dasgupta has a large body of research investigating inoculation theory. The theory suggests that, like a physical vaccine, the beliefs of those around you can promote resilience and protect you from misinformation. Dr. Evava Pietri's research also outlines the benefits of and some possible methods for encouraging women to join STEM fields; women benefit from being in contact with other women who act as their professional role models.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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