Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on March 20, 2016. Enjoy!
In celebration of Women’s History Month, just imagine how much more dangerous, inconvenient or simply less fun life would be without the following inventions — all created by women.
1. Windshield Wipers
When Mary Anderson saw that New York City streetcar drivers had to open the windows and poke their heads outside to see during a storm, a virtual light bulb appeared above her head. Anderson invented windshield wipers that were operated manually from inside automobiles, and she patented them in 1905. Eleven years later, another woman, Charlotte Bridgwood, patented the first automatic windshield wipers.
2. Bulletproof Vests
The main material in bulletproof vests is Kevlar, a flame-resistant synthetic that is five times stronger than steel. It was invented in the early 1970s by Stephanie Kwolek, one of the first women research chemists, who discovered a liquid crystalline polymer solution that was exceptionally strong and stiff. Kevlar is also found in safety helmets, suspension bridge cables and other items.
3. Life Rafts
Weary of hearing about people drowning at sea, Maria Beasley designed and patented a life raft that was “fire-proof, compact, safe and readily-launched” in 1880. Her life raft had safety features like guard railings and metal floats, and it could be folded to save space on ships. Beasley later made a fortune with another of her inventions: a machine that made wooden barrels.
4. Wireless Communications
You may be surprised to know that a pioneer of wireless “spread spectrum” technology, which is used today in cellphones, computers and other telecommunications devices, was Hedy Lamarr, an actress called “the most beautiful girl in the world.” During World War II, she helped develop a secret communications system that manipulated radio frequencies, preventing classified messages from being intercepted by enemy troops.
5. Coffee Filters
Melitta Bentz, a German housewife, got tired of the grainy, bitter coffee that resulted from brewing a cloth bag filled with coffee grounds in boiling water. In the early 1900s, she punched holes in the bottom of a brass pot, covered the holes with a piece of paper and placed it on a cup filled with ground coffee. She then poured hot water in the pot, creating the first drip coffee system. Bentz patented her coffee filter in 1908, and 108 years later, the Melitta brand is still sold worldwide.
It’s not all that surprising that a woman — who was fed up with the pinching discomfort of corsets — invented this undergarment. Mary Phelps Jacob, a New York socialite in the early 20th century, devised a comfy alternative using two handkerchiefs sewn together with ribbon and cord. When her female family members and friends began asking for their own, Jacob patented what she called the “backless brassiere” and sold them under her new name, Caresse Crosby.
7. Typewriter Correction Fluid
Way back in the 20th century, before everyone had a home computer, you had to use a typewriter to create printed documents. And if you made a mistake, there was no Delete key – you had to manually erase it. A convenient way to do this was with Liquid Paper correction fluid, a product invented in the 1950s by Bette Nesmith Graham – who happens to be not only the mother of this invention, but also the mother of Michael Nesmith of The Monkees.
8. Ice Cream Makers
I wouldn’t scream, you wouldn’t scream and we all probably wouldn’t scream for ice cream if it wasn’t for Nancy Johnson. In 1843, she invented an ice cream maker that is still used today. Instead of freezing cream in a pot, Johnson patented an automatic freezer consisting of a tub, cylinder, lid, dasher and crank. Now, that’s something to scream about!
9. Barbie Dolls
Based on her ridiculous proportions, you might think the world-famous Barbie doll was created by a man. But no, it was invented in 1959 by Ruth Handler, who named the toy after her daughter, Barbara; Ken was named after her son. Handler noticed Barbara and her friends pretending their paper dolls were teenagers, so she came up with the idea of a three-dimensional, grown-up doll. Later in her life, Handler, a breast cancer survivor, created “Nearly Me” realistic-looking breast prostheses.
You may have heard that this classic board game was created in the 1930s by Charles Darrow, an unemployed man. Not exactly. It was invented by Elizabeth Magie, who called it The Landlord’s Game and considered it a protest against Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and other famous monopolists. Darrow later stole her idea and sold it to Parker Brothers, making hundreds of millions of dollars. Think about that the next time you pass Go.
Photo Credit: Cody Williams/Flickr