Throughout history, and now into the 21st century, famous women inventors have played a vital role in the world of innovation. In fact, women have become increasingly prevalent in the field and are responsible for such momentous advances as windshield wipers, disposable diapers, the first computer language, and the Mars Rover.
As a part of our 30th anniversary, InventHelp would like to celebrate some female inventors that have helped to innovate our modern world with their intelligent minds, strong wills, and full hearts.
Anyone who’s ever driven in a rain or snow storm can attest to the dire importance of windshield wipers. What a lot of people don’t know is that windshield wipers were invented by a woman. Inventor Mary Anderson received a patent for her car-window cleaning device in 1903. Anderson’s invention came about during a trip to New York City when the Alabama-born inventor noticed that streetcar drivers had to open the windows of their cars when it rained in order to see. As a solution, Anderson invented a swinging arm device with a rubber blade that was operated by the driver from within the vehicle using a lever.
Marion Donovan was instilled with an inventive spirit at a young age. She spent the greater part of her childhood hanging around the manufacturing plant run by her father and uncle, two men who combined to invent, among other things, an industrial lathe for grinding automobile gears and gun barrels. Years later, as a post-World War II housewife and mother of two in Connecticut, Donovan would make good use of the ingenuity that she had observed in her youth. Frustrated by the thankless, repetitive task of changing her youngest child’s soiled cloth diapers, bed sheets and clothing, she decided to craft a diaper cover to keep her baby – and the surrounding area – dry. Donovan sat down at her sewing machine with a shower curtain and, after several attempts, she completed a waterproof diaper cover. Her first design was mostly unsuccessful, but she received a patent for her idea, sold it, and continued to bring her concepts to life, earning 20 patents in her lifetime. Marion Donovan’s innovation was the predecessor of Pampers diapers, which are still very popular today.
Perhaps one of the most famous toys in American history, the Barbie doll is a staple in the toy chests of little girls everywhere. Along with co-founding the renowned toy company Mattel, woman inventor Ruth Handler also designed the doll that would become an American cultural icon. While watching her daughter play with paper dolls, Ruth Handler noticed that she and her friends used the dolls to act out the future rather than the present. So, she set out to invent a grown-up, three-dimensional doll that girls could use to act out their dreams. After premiering at the Toy Fair in 1959, Barbie became an instant sensation. The success
of the doll propelled Mattel to become a publicly owned company that soon made Fortune’s list of the 500 largest U.S. industrial companies. Along with being an inventor and businesswoman, Ruth Handler is also a breast cancer survivor – an experience she used to start another company, Nearly Me, which manufactured realistic-looking breast prostheses.
In the mid-1980s, a twelve-year old girl developed an invention that greatly helped people who have difficulty communicating. Rachel Zimmerman of Ontario, Canada created a software program using Blissymbols: symbols that enable non-speaking people, such as those with severe physical disabilities like cerebral palsy, to communicate. The program user communicates by pointing to various symbols on a page or board through the use of a special touch pad. When the user touches the symbols, Zimmerman’s “Blissymbol Printer” translates them into a written language. In this way, the user can record his or her thoughts or communicate via e-mail. Rachel Zimmerman went on to study physics and space studies in college and now works for The Planetary Society in California, where she teaches people about space exploration. She is interested in combining space technology with assistive intelligence. Her goal is to take NASA innovations and tailor them to fit the needs of people with disabilities.
Dr. Grace Murray Hopper
Inventor Grace Murray Hopper was a curious child. At the age of seven, she dismantled her alarm clock to figure out how it worked, but was unable to reassemble it. By the time her mother figured out what she had been up to, the young Grace Hopper had gone through seven clocks in the house. This intellectual curiosity would later play an integral part in earning Hopper a place among the ranks of the most famous women inventors. After serving in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a computer programmer during World War II, she became a senior programmer with Remington Rand, where she lead the team that invented COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), the first user-friendly business computer software program. Later, Hopper invested a great deal of time advocating validation procedures to bring about the international standardization of computer languages. She won numerous awards for her career as a famous woman inventor, including the National Medal of Technology, which was presented to her in 1991 by President George Bush. By the time she passed away on January 1, 1992, Dr. Hopper had received honorary degrees from thirty universities.
Ignoring the gender stereotypes and discriminatory barriers that stood at every turn, these female inventors displayed an iron will and unwavering perseverance. Their ingenuity helped to shape the world as we know it over the last few centuries.
*This is an excerpt taken from a previous InventHelp piece. For more information and additional inventor profiles, please click .
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