March is Women’s History Month, which is the celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society. Women inventors have played a large role throughout history but some of their contributions have been overlooked or downplayed. In honour of Women’s History Month, we are showcasing five inventions made by women that you might not be aware of.
Automatic Dishwasher – Josephine Cochrane (1887)
Josephine Cochrane came from a family of inventors and engineers. While her father was a civil engineer, her great grandfather was an inventor known for his steamboat related innovations. Despite Cochrane’s creative and smart family, she did not finish school and married William A. Cochran at 19 years old. Cochrane became a socialite, she and her husband often entertained guests at their home. After entertaining their guests, Cochrane’s servants would clean their dishes. Cochran was frustrated when she found out that the servants had chipped the dishes while washing them. This led her to come up with the idea of an automatic dishwashing machine. After the death of Cochrane’s alcoholic husband, she was left with a large debt which motivated her to patent her invention and open her own production factory.
Windshield wipers – Mary Anderson (1903)
Mary Anderson was very family orientated, after hearing her aunt needed help, she moved back home to care for her. When Anderson got some inheritance money from her aunt and decided to take a trip to New York City. While in a streetcar during a snowy day on her trip, Anderson noticed the driver could hardly see through his windshield and had to keep opening the window to clear his view. When Anderson returned to Alabama, she began to design a practical solution for the problem she had encountered. Anderson filed for an application for a patent. However, multiple manufacturing firms turned down her idea and said it lacked demand and would distract drivers. Anderson’s patent expired before she could entice anyone. But in 1917, Charlotte Bridgewood patented the “Electric Storm Windshield Cleaner”, an automatic wiper system that used rollers instead of blades.
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS – Hedy Lamarr (1941)
Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-American actress and inventor. However, Lamarr’s amazing mind was put on hold, when she was discovered by director Max Reinhardt at age 16. Lamarr starred in a range of films including Samson and Delilah, The Strange Woman and Dishonored Lady. During World War II, Lamarr wanted to help any way possible and stated she did not feel comfortable sitting in Hollywood making money when things were in such a state. Therefore, Lamarr and George Antheil began to tinker with ideas to help with World War II. To help guide missiles to their targets, the pair invented “frequency hopping” amongst radio waves. This technology later paved the way for wireless communications like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS.
Computer programming – Grace Hopper (1959)
In 1928, Grace Hopper graduated from Vassar College with degrees in mathematics and physics. Later going on to receive a master’s degree in mathematics from Yale and finally completing her PhD in mathematics at Yale in 1934. As World War II began, Hopper wanted to join the war but she was initially rejected. Hopper persisted and was finally able to join the U.S. Naval Reserve becoming a computer operator. She worked on Mark I, one of the earliest computers, programming and repairing it. Hopper then went on to develop the world’s first compiler, which translated instructions into code that computers could read. This eventually became one of the first programming languages.
Caller ID – Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson (1976)
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is a theoretical physicist and inventor, who has made multiple advances in science. Jackson always had an interest in mathematics and science, during her childhood she would conduct experiments and studies. She followed her interests and arrived at MIT in 1964 to study physics after graduating her high school as valedictorian. After nine years at MIT, Jackson became the first African-American woman to receive a PhD from the institution. Jackson then went on to work at Bell Laboratories where her research led to the invention of the portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fibre optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting.