Women Inventors

Each year for Women's History Month, I try to find books at the library about different women for Hazel to hear their stories and know the difference women play in history. This year one of our focuses has been on women inventors. I found nine women who invented something and have a book at about Hazel level written on them. Some of these books I have not read yet since they are requested from other libraries and have not arrived, so I am guessing a bit on the levels. I will share a bit about each women in this post: Ruth Wakefield, Grace Hopper, Gertrude Elion, Hedy Lemarr, Martha Coston, Stephanie Kwolek, Margaret Knight, Mary Anderson and Amanda Jones.

Ruth Graves Wakefield

We will start with an exciting one for most children and the inventor of something you probably have made yourself. Ruth Graves Wakefield was the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie and to be precise of the Toll House Cookie. Around 1938 Ruth was baking cookies for the guests of her (and her husband's) Toll House Inn. The Toll House Inn was a place where travelers would pay a toll, changed horses and ate home-cooked meals. It was located in Whitman, Massachusetts. I have read various stories of how she invented the chocolate chip cookie. One said she ran out of baking chocolate but had a few crumbs left and used them as the first chocolate chips. Another said she was trying to come up with a new cookie. She had gained local fame from her desserts. She wrote a cook book called Toll House Tried and True Recipes. It went through 39 printings starting in 1930. The 1939 edition was the first to include a recipe called: Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie. Ruth gave Nestlé the right to use her cookie recipe and the Toll House name for one dollar. And now we see the recipe on every package of Nestlé chocolate chips. (Sources: Wikipedia and Famous Women Inventors)

Dr. Grace Murray Hopper

Grace Hopper
By James S. Davis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
After earning a pH. D. in mathematics at Yale University and being a professor at Vassar College, Grace Murray Hopper joined the Navy Reserves during World War II.She was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University where she worked on the Mark series of computers. In 1949 she joined Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation as a Senior Mathematician. The company changed names as it was bought out a few times, but it is here that Grace helped create COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages. She is often credited with coining the term "debugging" based on a time which a moth needed to be removed from a computer. She also developed the A compiler which no one at the time wanted to deal with since computers were just doing arithmetic. Grace Hopper helped make computers more user friendly and was at the beginning of computers. Our computer experience today would not be the same without her. (Sources: Wikipedia, Women Inventors, and Yale University)

Gertrude B. Elion

Gertrude Elion
See page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Gertrude B. Elion was an American biochemist and pharmacologist. She helped develop drugs to treat major illnesses including leukemia, malaria and AIDS. She won a Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine in 1988. In 1991 she became the first woman to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. (Sources: Biography and Wikipedia)

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr in Her Highness and the Bellboy trailer 2.JPG
By Trailer screenshot (Her Highness and the Bellboy trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian actress. She started in films in Germany. In the 1930s she secretly left her husband and moved to Paris where she met Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM Studios. He offered her a contract in Hollywood and she was a star there from the late 1930s until the 1950s. She was promoted as the world's most beautiful woman. In 1942 she and George Antheil patented what they called the Secret Communication System. This system was meant to help the navy with launching torpedoes by manipulating the radio frequencies so the enemy could not find it. This technology was not used in World War II like Hedy and George hoped. It was adopted in 1962 by the U.S. Navy. Their Secret Communication System is the basis of modern spread-spectrum technology such as Bluetooth, some wi-fi network connections and some cordless and wireless phones. (Sources: Wikipedia, Famous Women Inventors and  Official Site of Hedy Lemarr)

Martha Coston

Source: American Civil War Story

Martha Coston was born in 1826 in Baltimore. At the age of 14 or 16 she eloped. Her husband, Benjamin Franklin Coston became the director of the U.S. Navy's scientific laboratory in Washington, D.C. After a dispute over payment he resigned his position in 1847 and began work for Boston Gas Company. In 1848 he died due to chemical exposure from his two jobs. In the years following her husband's death two of Martha's children and her mother also died. Martha found her husband's work on night signal flares. His work was incomplete and needed some work before producing a practical signaling system. She worked on them for nearly ten years. She relied on knowledge of hired chemists and firework specialists since she did not have her husband's chemistry background. After many trials, she finally perfected the flares and asked the Secretary of the Navy to have a group of officers to test them. In 1859 she was granted a patent as the administratrix for her deceased husband. The U.S. Navy soon placed orders for her different color flares. Martha also got patents in Europe and traveled to Europe to market her flares. In 1861 Martha returned to the United States and went directly to Washington since the Civil War was about to start. She petitioned Congress to buy her patent so the flares could be used in the conflict. She proposed they pay $40,000. Congress approved buying them for $20,000. Coston's flares were used extensively bu the U.S. Navy in the Civil War and they were proven effective in the war. Coston continued to improve her flares and had a patent in her own name in 1871. Eventually every life-saving station was equipped with Coston's flares. She died in 1904, but her company was in business until at least 1985. (Sources: Wikipedia and American Civil War Story)

Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek Women in Chemistry from video
Chemical Heritage Foundation [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Stephanie Kwolek was an American chemist whose career at DuPont Company was forty years long. She was born in 1923 and died last year, June 18, 2014. She is best known for her invention of synthetic fibers known as Kevlar. At the time she was looking for a fiber to be used in tires with the anticipation of a gasoline shortage. Her process with the chemicals developed Kevlar which is five times stronger than steel. It is the main ingredient in bulletproof vests. It is also used in skis, safety helmets, hiking and camping gear, airplanes, tires, cellular telephones and suspension bridges. For her discovery, Stephanie was rewarded the DuPont Company's Lavoisier Award in 1995. She is the first woman to ever win this award and at the time of her death she was still the only woman to receive it. She also is the fourth woman to be inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame. (Sources: Wikipedia and Famous Women Inventors)

Margaret Knight

Source: Tech Republic

Margaret Knight has been called the most famous 19th century inventor. She was born in 1838 and went to school until she was twelve. At age twelve she began working in a cotton mill.  She observed an accident at the mill and her first invention was to help stop such accidents. It was an invention to automatically stop the machine if something got caught. After the Civil War Margaret moved to Massachusetts and worked in a paper bag factory. She thought it would be easier to pack things in the bags if they had a flat bottom. She invented a machine that would fold and glue the bottom of the paper bags. Charles Annan tried to patent Margaret's invention, but she took him to court and proved it was hers. She received her patent in 1871. To this day thousands of machines based on Margaret's patents are in use today. (Sources: Famous Women Inventors and Wikipedia)

Mary Anderson

Source: Birmingham History Center
Mary Anderson was a real estate developer, rancher and inventor of the windshield wipers. She was born in Alabama in 1866. In 1903 during a visit to New York City she noticed the trolley drivers having trouble seeing out the windshields due to the frosty weather. Often the trolleys were driven with both panes down to keep a clear (but cold) view. When she returned to Alabama she invented a hand operated device to keep the windshield clean. She received a 17-year patent on her invention in 1903. In 1905 she tried to sell her design to a Canadian company who said they could not imagine a commercial use for the invention. I have seen mixed reviews as to when windshield wipers became standard on cars. Some say in 1913 and others are in 1922. Either way her patent had ended and she received nothing for this standard that is on all cars now. (Sources: Wikipeida, and Famous Women Inventors)

Amanda Jones

Source: Voices Education
Amanda Jones was an author, scientist and inventor. She invented a vacuum method of canning as well as the oil furnace. She was one of twelve children and was born in 1835. By the time she was fifteen she was a school teacher. She wrote poetry as well as civil war songs. In 1890 she founded Women's Canning and Preserving Company in Chicago. It only employed women. She was a strong advocate for women's suffrage. She died of influenza in 1914. (Sources: Wikipedia and Voices Education)

For more Women's History posts check out the following and be sure to check out the Multicultural Kid Blogs Women's History Month Blog Series with Link Party