Women Invent a Better World

women inventors in historyOne lesson this past election taught us was that there are a lot of men in this country who seem to think that women, collectively and individually, are not very smart.

Not smart enough to be hold public office, not smart enough to have a career without a man’s help, and not even smart enough to know how their own bodies work unless men explain it to them.

This being their case, let’s walk these gentlemen through an entire day where they won’t have to have anything to do with stuff invented by “gur-ruls.”

First off, guys, you can’t leave the house for a few days. As this is written, Southern California is being pelted by a series of storms; and driving in the rain means you need to use the windshield wipers. Invented and patented by Mary Anderson (who marketed them under the ANCO name. You may have heard of it).

So, you’re stuck in the house, looks like. Make some coffee? Only if you perk it so you won’t use the drip coffeemaker, invented and patented by Melitta Bentz.

Tidy up the house a little, maybe? Don’t use Anna Bissell’s carpet sweeper or Josephine Cochran’s automatic dishwasher. Or forget to close Hannah Harger’s screen door.

And, good thing you live in a custom-built house so you won’t have to put up with one of Kate Gleason’s tract homes.

A bite to eat? Not a frozen pizza (Rose Totino’s invention). And not one of Betty Cronin’s frozen TV dinners.

Or Laura Scudder’s potato chips in a bag. Or Jell-O (Sarah Cooper, Rose Markward Knox, and Mary Wait). And don’t make a sandwich out of Margaret Rudkin’s Pepperidge Farms bread. And don’t make it on Harriet Hosmer’s cultured marble counter tops. And don’t use the cubes from Jessie Cartwright’s automatic ice maker in your refrigerator for your drink.

Or open up a can of soup, or vegetables, or anything (Amanda Theodosia Jones), or anything frozen (Mary Engle Pennington).

At least you were spared the “paper or plastic” quandary, since you won’t be using paper bags (concept and machinery invented by Margaret Knight and Lydia Deubener).

Run some laundry, then? Don’t use Agnes McQueary’s fabric softener sheets.

And just let the phone ring so you won’t have to use Teri Pall’s cordless phone.

A little work on the car? Don’t use Vanessa Hess’s Magic Shine colored car wax.

And if you’re thinking of a little outdoor fun, forget about Gertrude Rogallo’s hang glider.

So maybe a little computer time, then. Forget about your Personal Data Assistant; the PC/ FAX/cell phone combo was invented and patented by Celeste Baranski.

Sure, there’s always something interesting on the Internet. But there probably wouldn’t be a desktop as we know it without the pioneering work done by Lady Ada Byron (the poet’s daughter); she wrote the world’s first computer program for one of the world’s first computers, the Difference Engine she developed with Charles Babbage.

Or without Admiral Grace Hopper’s software compiler, so programs wouldn’t have to be re-entered every time you wanted to run them. And developing computer language, so a computer could run more than one program.

But while you’re browsing, forget the public library data base. That was invented by Alicia Page.

And don’t sit in the chair that’s had the Scotch Gard treatment (Patsy Sherman).

And while you’re working in the office, don’t make writing mistakes so you won’t have to use Bette Nesmith Graham’s (Monkee Mike Nesmith’s mom) Liquid Paper.

So, while you’re up and looking for something to do, maybe check your closet. Anything in there made out of cotton? Thank Catherine Littlefield Greene for inventing the Cotton Gin and making cotton farming profitable in the United States.

Footnote: “ginning”, the process of getting the seeds out of the cotton bolls, was a tedious, labor-intensive process before Mrs. Greene’s machine. Her two major mistakes in the process were to hire an unemployed Yankee school teacher named Eli Whitney to tutor her children, and to help her with the final assembly processes on the Gin.

The other mistake was to show the finished product to her neighbors around her Mulberry Grove, Georgia farm before she had set up her own factory.

Whitney filed the patents under his own name, and the neighbors shamelessly copied her design to build their own Gins.

Mrs. Greene spent more money on lawsuits protecting her designs than she made from the machines.

Back in your closet, see how many of your cotton clothes are colored. Chances are that the cotton was grown in those colors, thanks to Sally Fox. She discovered how to grow the long staple cotton (can’t use short staple for spinning) in different colors, so toxic dyes wouldn’t have to be used.

Oh. And if you have friends or family in the police or military, think about Stephanie Kwolek’s polymer fiber named Kevlar, and all the body armor it’s used in.

Even a brief look shows the amazing range of women’s inventions; everything from Janet Rideout’s AZT vaccine (the first effective AIDS drug) to Patricia Bianconi’s artificial diamonds, to Martine Kempf’s voice-controlled wheelchairs and automobiles.

Even more astounding than the range of women’s inventions is the fact that so many of the inventors started so young. Jeanie Low was granted her first patent when she was eleven years old, making her the youngest American patent holder ever. This record held for a year until her younger sister Elizabeth, then ten years old, was granted her first patent.

john macmurray

And on top of all the intellectual accomplishment, most of the women noted became wealthy from their inventions and in some cases built companies based on these inventions.

So, guys, you might want to mend your misogynistic ways. Before the ladies invent a way to do without you!

More useful info:

Patently Female by Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek
2002, John Wiley & Sons, New York

John MacMurray

Friday, 30 November 2012

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