Women have been responsible for discovering many labor-saving devices. February is National Women Inventors month, and the following women are just a taste of the unsung heroines who developed items that are now in use.
Sybilla Masters was one of the first women inventors in North erica. She devised an apparatus for grinding corn to make hominy grits, which was at that time a staple in most households. Since securing a patent involved petitioning the British king for recognition, she left for London in 1712. She did not receive the patent for her corn mill until 1715, and even then King George I granted it in her husband’s name. Sybilla was mentioned in the recognition, and as such became the only woman in the colonies to be awarded what is now called a patent until 1793.
Sarah Tabitha Babbitt belonged to the Shaker sect. While she watched neighbors trying to split wood with a long two-handled saw, she knew there was a more effective way to accomplish this. In 1810 she devised what is now known as the circular saw and powered it by attaching it to the pedal of her spinning wheel. She chose not to patent it, as her beliefs were that she should not make money off making labor easier for others.
How many of us have taken a turn cranking an ice cream maker on a summer afternoon? Nancy Johnson came up with the concept in the 1840s. She did not have the money to apply for a patent, so she sold the rights for $200 to William Young in 1846.
Before Letitia Geer solved the difficulty, it took both hands to load and administer injections with a syringe. Immunizations and medications were much easier after she patented the one-handed syringe in 1899.
After being a passenger in a trolley where the driver had to have both windows open in order to see during a snowstorm, in 1903 Mary Anderson devised what she called a “window cleaning device”. We now know it as a windshield wiper.
Patsy Sherman was working as a chemist for 3M in the early 1950s. She and a colleague accidently discovered the formula for Scotchgard in 1952. It went on the market in 1956, and Patsy was able to patent the formula in 1973.
A Norwegian nurse, Halldis Thune, was witness to a car accident where the driver was treated at the scene for a neck injury. In 1986, she worked with light plastic and Velcro to fashion what she called a neck-aid brace to immobilize the neck of accident victims while they were on the way to more complete medical care.
For fascinating stories of how these and other inventors helped form today’s known world, check out Charlotte Montague’s book Women of Invention: Life-Changing Ideas by Remarkable Women T39 M64 2018.