14 Revolutionary Inventions By Women That Changed the Way We Live

RealClear Staff


Turns out women have been inventing culture-altering devices for more than the last 200 years. If you're using WiFi, windshield wipers or a paper bag, you'll know what we mean.

1. COBAL Computer Programming Language and 'Debugging'

Grace Murray Hopper (1906-92) spent her career in the U.S. Navy as a computer scientist, and invented the first compiler for a computer programming language that led to the development of COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages. She is credited with popularizing the term "debugging" for fixing computer glitches. She rose to the rank of Rear Admiral.

2. The Coffee Filter

German housewife Melitta Bentz (1873-1950) thought percolators were prone to over-brewing, and espresso-type machines tended to leave grounds in the drink. So she used blotting paper from her son's school exercise book and a brass pot perforated using a nail. Voila! She formed a company that would become a multimillion-dollar empire in 1908.

3. The Circular Saw

Tabitha Babbitt (1779-1853), a Shaker tool maker, is credited with inventing the first circular saw used in a saw mill in 1813. The circular saw was hooked up to a water powered machine to reduce the effort to cut lumber.

4. The Signal Flare

Before Martha Coston (1826-1904), passing ships communicated through signal flags, lanterns, and good old-fashioned shouting. Coston didn't think of the idea for signal flares; her husband did. But he died, and she spent 10 years developing it, filing a patent in 1859.

5. Nystatin

Rachel Fuller Brown and Elizabeth Lee Hazen were working for the New York State Department of Health in the 1940s when they collaborated on the first successful fungus-fighting drug. Nystatin, sold under brands such as Nyamyc, Pedi-Dri and Nystop, cures fungal infections that affect the skin, vagina and intestinal system.


6. Kevlar

Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014) was a chemist for the DuPont company in the 1960s trying to perfect a lighter fiber for car tires. Instead, she came up with a synthetic fiber of exceptional strength and stiffness: poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide — better known as Kevlar, which is five time stronger than steel and bulletproof.

7. Monopoly

Elizabeth Magie (1866–1948) invented The Landlord's Game to illustrate teachings of progressive era economist Henry George. In the 1930s, Parker Brothers bought it and changed the name, along with other refinements, to Monopoly.

8. The Paper Bag

Margaret E. Knight  (1838-1914) is likely the most famous 19th-century woman inventor. She essentially made the paper bag functional -- they were more like envelopes before her invention of a wooden machine that would cut, fold and glue the square bottoms to paper bags in 1868. Among her other inventions: a numbering machine, window frame and sash, and several devices relating to rotary engines.

9. Invisible Glass

Katharine Burr Blodgett (1898-1979) was the first woman to get a Ph.D in physics at Cambridge University and went to work for General Electric. In the 1930s she developed invisible glass, which eliminated glare and distortion and revolutionized cameras, microscopes, eyeglasses, and more.

10. The Solar-Powered House

Mária Telkes (1900-1995) was one of the earliest solar energy pioneers. Her greatest achievement: designing the first solar heating system for the Dover Sun House in Dover, Massachusetts, in 1947.

11. The Windshield Wiper

Mary Anderson (1866–1953) made most of her money in real estate. Good thing, because when she invented the windshield wiper in 1903, there was no immediate market for it. It didn't become popular until after the patent had expired.

12. The Underwater Telescope

A precursor to the Aquascope, it was patented by Sarah Mather in 1845 and permitted sea-going vessels to survey the depths of the ocean.

13. The Automatic Dishwasher

Josephine Cochrane (1839-1913) invented the first dishwasher that combined high water pressure, a wheel, a boiler, and a wire rack like the ones still used in dishwashers today. She patented it in 1886. 

14. Frequency-Hopping Spread-Spectrum Technology

We end on our favorite woman inventor, the glamorous Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000). What's not to like? Considered by many to be the most beautiful actress in Hollywood, she was inspired by the war effort to invent and patent a method of preventing radio-controlled torpedoes from being jammed. The design is one of the basics behind today's spread-spectrum communication technology, which has brought us GPS, Bluetooth, wireless and cell phones, and Wi-Fi networks. Thanks, Hedy!



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