Friday, March 18, 2016

Mothers of Invention

Thought for the day:  To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. [Thomas Edison]

Thomas Edison is kinda the quintessential inventor, along with a long list of other men you can probably name. Well, Plato may have said Necessity is the mother of invention, but I'm here to tell you that women, who may or may not have been mothers, can and have come up with some pretty doggone amazing inventions, too... things you may have incorrectly assumed were the brain children of men.

The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was the genius. [Sid Caesar]

For example, men have been the undisputed leaders in the automotive industry, but it was a woman named Margaret Wilcox, who made riding in an automobile more cozy with her 1893 invention of the car heater. Thanks to her device, which blew air over the top of the hot engine to warm the tootsies of nineteenth century motorists, women no longer got cold feet when it came to taking a spin with their fellas. Alas, her other invention of the combined clothes and dishwasher didn't catch on, possibly because people weren't enthralled with the idea of their soiled undies sharing a basin with their dinner plates. (Picky, picky, picky.) Another innovation that greatly improved motor vehicles was Mary Anderson's 1903 invention of the windshield wiper. True, we no longer have to manipulate a lever by hand to sweep a rubber blade over the windshield, but her ideas cleared the way for motorized versions.

I don't think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness— to save oneself trouble. [Agatha Christie]

[wikimedia]
To save oneself trouble? Maybe, but what's wrong with creating labor-saving devices? Like the dishwasher, for example. It should come as no surprise that a woman invented that. I mean, really. It was probably much easier for Josephine Cochran to invent the machine in 1887 than it was to get her husband's keister out in the kitchen to lend her a hand. The story has it that she and her husband liked to throw dinner parties, and she was so angry to find her servants had chipped some of her fine china while washing it after one of those parties, she swore they would never handle it again. (Somehow, I don't believe they were terribly upset at the thought of shedding this chore, do you?) That resulted in her spending time with her hands plunged into hot soapy water, a task she disliked so much, she turned her attention toward inventing something that could solve her problem. When other ladies weren't interested in purchasing her amazing machine, (Why should they? That's why they had servants...) she marketed it to hotels and restaurants. Even created a company to keep up with demand, which later became part of Kitchen Aid.

[wikimedia]
A woman is also credited with inventing the first electrical refrigerator. Florence Parpart accomplished this wondrous feat in 1914, and I'm sure her inspired creation had nothing to do with the fact that her ice man may have cometh late one time too many.

If you've read any of the studies about how the opinion of men and women differs when it comes to a comfortable room temperature, you shouldn't be surprised a woman name Alice Parker, who was probably sick and tired of having to wear a sweater in her own house, came up with the idea for gas-powered central heating in 1919. Although her unit was never manufactured, her idea allowed for the use of natural gas to heat homes, leading to the systems still used today. I thought, perhaps, that a menopausal woman might have come up with the first air conditioning unit, but I was wrong. It was a guy named Willis Carrier. ( Inspired by his wife or mother's hot flashes, perhaps...?)

[photo credit: Dupont Corporation]
Let's consider a few inventions made by the fairer sex that addressed some safety concerns, shall we? In this picture is Stephanie Kwolek, the brilliant chemist who discovered kevlar in 1965... the five times stronger than steel material that is used to make bullet-proof vests. Then there's Anna Connelly, who invented the fire escape in 1887, a lifesaver for countless apartment-dwelling people all over the world. Just as important as a means of safe escape from a burning building, so too is the safe escape from a sinking ship. Maria Beasley provided that with her invention of a life raft in 1880. She also invented a foot warmer, a steam generator, an anti-derailment device for trains, and a machine that makes barrels. She bore no responsibility, however, for the idiots who chose to crawl inside of one of those nifty barrels to plunge over Niagara Falls.

[photo credit: Harvard school of design library]
Think solar panels are a recent innovation? Think again. Chemist Dr. Maria Telkes was experimenting with solar energy from 1939 until '53. In addition to her many other accomplishments, her successful and much-acclaimed Dover Sun House, built in 1949, was the first home built that employed her solar heating system. Telkes is on the left, and at right is Eleanor Raymond, the architect who worked with her to make the house a reality.



[wikipedia]

Anybody else remember working with room-sized computers? Yeah, we really have come a long way, baby. In the '40s, Dr. Grace Murray Hopper, who in addition to being a computer scientist, was also a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, invented COBOL, the first user-friendly computer software for businesses. She is allegedly also the first person to use the word bug in referring to a computer system glitch... and with good reason. She literally found a live bug inside of her computer... to be specific, a moth... which was wreaking havoc with the system.

[wikipedia]

This is a rather romantic-looking portrait of Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron. She, too, was a writer, but she was also a mathematician. She worked with Charles Babbage on an early mechanical general-purpose computer called the Analytical Engine, and her notes revealed the first algorithm intended to be carried out by machine, making her the world's first known computer programmer. (circa 1842)

There are only 10 kinds of people in the world– those who understand binary, and those who don't. 









[wikipedia]






The Analytical Engine, which is currently housed in London's Science Museum.










[wikipedia ]





Old movie buffs may recognize the oh-so glamorous Hedy Lamarr from this 1940 photo of her from MGM. But she was far from being just a pretty face. During WWII, she devised a jam-proof radio guidance system for torpedoes. Based on spread spectrum frequency-hopping, this innovative technology paved the way for everything from WiFi to GPS.

Here's another invention you might be surprised to know came from a woman. Closed circuit TV. In the sixties, Marie Van Brittain Brown worked as a New York nurse, and often worked the night shift, leaving her home alone during the day in a neighborhood riddled with crime and a notoriously slow police response time. With her husband Albert, she devised a device in 1969 comprised of a movable camera that could peer through any of  four peepholes in the front door, and sent the images to a monitor in her bedroom. Not only could she move the camera to see who was at the door, she could communicate with them verbally, remotely unlock the door, and hit an alarm button, if need be.

[wikipedia]
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson has been at the forefront of an impressive number of innovations in telecommunications technology. Things like portable fax machines, touchtone telephones, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call-waiting. This nuclear physicist has done research with the Fermi National Accelerator Labs, was a visiting scientist at CERN, worked at Bell Laboratories, and taught at Rutgers University. She also chaired the Nuclear Regulation Commission, and has been the president of the Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute since 1999. (whew!)








[wikicommons]

This game board remind you of anything? It's The Landlord's Game, created by Elizabeth Magio in 1904 as a tool to teach about the injustices of unchecked capitalism. She was denied a patent when she first applied for it, on the basis that the game was too complicated. Didn't stop others from building on her idea to create their own versions of it... including Charles Darrow, who successfully sold his game to Parker Brothers as Monopoly in 1934, and allegedly made millions of dollars. As for Ms. Magio, the company later compensated her, too, to the tune of five hundred bucks.

Another gal who almost had her idea stolen is Margaret Knight, who invented a machine in 1871 that folded and glued paper to make square-bottomed bags. The cad who tried to steal her idea claimed that no woman could invent something so brilliant. Luckily for her, not only was she brilliant enough to invent the machine, she was also brilliant enough to be able to prove it. Not only was she the first woman to get a patent in the United States, she became the holder of 87 of them in her lifetime, including one for a safety device for cotton mills, which she invented at the age of twelve, and which is still used today. Yep, when it came to her smarts, she had it... in the bag.

Ninkasi, Sumerian goddess of brewing and beer [wikipedia]

Women are also credited with some rather fun creations, too. Like an ice cream maker! Nancy Johnson came up with that one in 1843, and thanks to her, we can all enjoy a gallon pint nice little dessert dish of ice cream whenever we'd like.

Okay, if you men aren't duly impressed with any of the items mentioned thus far, maybe this one will make you sit up and take notice. According to beer historians, (Who even knew there was such a thing?!) Mesopotamian women were the first to develop, sell, and drink... beer.

Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.  [Dave Barry]


                                       Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Thanks to Mr. Whyatt for graciously granting permission to post his cartoons on my blog from time to time.

61 comments:

  1. Loud applause. For the women, and for the post.

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    1. Those ladies were something else. It was a lot of fun learning about them, and writing about them. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  2. Well, it needed some refining, but I did make a wiper device for spectacles.(You could choose to clear the left or the right lens, not both at the same time.Sorry)

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  3. Of course a woman invented the dishwasher!

    Great post :)

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  4. A wonderfully informative post - and one that desperately needed to be written. The achievements of female inventors has been sorely neglected.
    And I'm so glad that you mentioned Hedy Lamarr - one of my all-time favorites and not just another pretty face.

    BTW, my mother met Hedy Lamarr (before I was born).

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    2. Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. No WAY I'd leave out Hedy Lamarr! She was living proof that a woman could have both beauty AND brains.

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  5. The only story I knew about was Hedy Lamarr. I saw it on TV in the past year or so. All the other fabulous women and their inventions are new to me. I will stand a little taller today knowing about the accomplishments of these ladies. Today we expect women to be at the forefront of new products, but in years past women were not taken seriously in business and their road to success was an extremely difficult path, if not impossible. Today my granddaughters grow up knowing that they can accomplish anything they want and because of the women who came before, most of the barriers have been eliminated.

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    1. It's uplifting to learn what women of the past accomplished. The hurdles they jumped, and the things they achieved make it possible for our granddaughters to take the endless possibilities ahead of them for granted.

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  6. wow - this is a very enlightening post - so many great inventions and women. I remember seeing Dr. Grace Hopper interviewed on 60 Minutes - excellent profile and such in interesting woman with a sense of humor too. All in all, women have made fine contributions to our lives. Thanks and have a great weekend

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    1. I'm sorry I missed that interview with Dr. Hopper. She was an incredibly brilliant woman. (And a rear admiral, TOO!)

      You have a super weekend, too.

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  7. Women sure can invent just as much as any man. Wow, she really got screwed out of her board game idea. $500? pfft.

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    1. Yeah, I know. Five hundred bucks. Then again, considering the mentality of that time, it's a wonder she got anything.

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  8. Fascinating stuff. I knew about Hedy Lamarr, but not so much about the others. Someone like Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson makes me wonder what the heck I've been doing with my life. But, above all, I must say God bless those Mesopotamian women.

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    1. Yeah, my hubby is mighty grateful to those Mesopotamian women, too.

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  9. Love it! When women rule the world again, and I mean literally, all the wrongs will be made right. My husband said something while we were on break that broke my heart. I'm out to get them all. LOL :)

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    1. HA! Who knows? Maybe some day, women will rule the world. They can't mess things up any worse than some of the men have.

      Tsk, tsk. Your husband should know better. You can kill him off in your next book in some most heinous ways. (NEVER mess with a writer!)

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  10. Great post! Thank heavens for all those women before us with so many clever ideas.

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    1. Thanks, Connie. I'm glad you liked it. Like Maurice used to sing, "Thank Heaven for leetle girls..."

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  11. Fabulous, wonderful and terrific post today.
    I knew about a few of these women but it is alway nice to know more.
    I have two sons that must know and are very happy to know about the Mesopotamian women.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.

      Lots of people in our family are quite pleased with those Mesopotamian ladies, too.

      Cheers back atcha.

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  12. Cracking post. It should be included in the school curriculum. Thanks! :-)

    Greetings from London.

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    1. By cracky, thank you! I'm glad you liked it. :)

      Greetings back atcha.

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  13. I think I remember hearing about Ada Lovelace before, but these other women inventors are new to me. Fascinating!

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    1. I'm glad you find it fascinating. I think it's fun to learn about some of the things we were never taught in history class.

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  14. Yes...why is it that most of us have heard only of one of these women? I, too, had only heard of Hedy Lamarr. Glad you set a few things right. This is interesting stuff, worthwhile to know and remember (and bring up during the right kind of conversations)!

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    1. It's surprising how many accomplishments achieved by women have been allowed to fall through the cracks of HIStory.

      (Yeah! You never know when you might hear a question about some of these things, and you can wow your hubby again by knowing the answer!)

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  15. Wow! Learned so much, thank you! (And was of course entertained, too). As to Agatha Christie's quote: in the Hanseatic City Bremen, where I come from, we have a legend, called "The 7 Lazy People" - them being brothers, they invented a lot of things - e.g. a waterpump - and the refrain of the good citizens always was: "Ah, they are only too lazy to walk down to the river and carry the water to their house." Etc, etc...

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    1. When I was a child, our family had a beautifully illustrated book of fairy tales, (circa 1920s or earlier) which I read many many times. In it was a story called "The Seven Brothers of Bremen." I can't remember much about it, but I bet it was based on your legend. Cool. (Unfortunately, I don't know whatever became of that book. Such a shame.)

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  16. Whoa. I did not know any of this. What amazing facts about female inventors. There were many and there contributions were phenomenal.

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    1. I'm sure the ladies mentioned here are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Most likely, there were many more accomplished women whose contributions have gone unknown.

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  17. Love this post, Susan. While I knew about Hedy and Ada, the rest of these amazing women were a revelation.

    Being a bit of Byronophile, I’ve always been fascinated by Ada. That there are now books being written about Ada gives me great joy. Not so many years ago, she barely rated a footnote in biographies of Babbage.

    Bless the Women of Mesopotamia. :)


    VR Barkowski

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    1. If you were familiar with two of these gals, that's one more than any of the other commenters. :)

      I didn't know you were a Byronophile. Cool.

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  18. That was soooo interesting! I am willing to be that many, many inventions attributed to men were not developed without a lot of input from a busy and brilliant wife.

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you found this info interesting. And yep! No doubt, many females never got credit for things they invented, or helped invent. (I'll betcha most writings attributed to "anonymous" were written by women, too.)

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  19. Wow, I didn't know most of that! I love that I learn every time I come here.

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    1. I love that you learn stuff here, too! And who knows? Some of it might even come in handy some day if you ever play a trivia game.

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  20. COBOL, the first user-friendly...
    I go along with the idea that everything is relative so I won't laugh at that line. But I will tell you when I was taking computer programming classes COBOL is the reason my hair started falling out in the late 90's. It drove me utterly crazy.

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    1. HA! Well then, I suppose you're happy COBOL eventually went the way of the dinosaurs.

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    2. Yeah, but while I earned the programming certificate, barely, I never got job doing that stuff. It's funny actually, the programming field here in South Carolina simply became so saturated the community college I attended had to cut back on the computer science classes.

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    3. Maybe it's just as well. Do you think you would have enjoyed working as a programmer?

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  21. Susan, I loved reading how many smart women there were and are... they really did a lot for us... leave it to a women to invent so many necessary items... the dishwasher for example... I had one for 10 years and I loved it xox

    I hope you have a really great week xox

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Launna. Yep, it just makes sense that a woman invented the dishwasher, doesn't it? :)

      You have a super week, too.

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  22. Hi Susan ... women do feature all through history - but these are some great ones... and the though of a clothes-dishwasher is a great idea for a cartoon. I'm doing a talk on Ada later in the year - a fascinating character ... so am glad you've included her! Cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi-ya, Hilary. Yeah, you're right. The clothes-dishwasher combo does sound a bit cartoonish.

      Very cool that you're going to be doing a talk about Ada! (Wish I could be there to hear it.)

      Cheers back atcha.

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  23. I knew about the Babbage Engine and Ms. Lamarr's work in coded transmissions but the preponderance of your excellent research into important inventors was unknown to me. I sure learn here. Thanks!

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  24. Also, Thomas Edison was kind of a jerk that stole a lot of his famous inventions. Just ask Nikola Tesla about that one.

    I loved reading about these lady inventors, and admittedly, had not heard of many. And with Mary Anderson's invention, for some reason I like to picture those old Looney Tunes cartoons where the cars had windshield wipers that were essentially toothbrushes tied on with string.

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    1. I've read some great books about the Edison-Tesla disagreements, especially over the AC vs DC controversy. I have a feeling that each would have (and did) call the other a jerk.

      Who knows? Maybe Ms. Anderson inspired those cartoon depictions. :)

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  25. As someone who is an unashamed feminist, I applaud this post. Women are a bit shafted as far as recognition for their contributions to history on many levels. Great reminder in this post :)

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    1. Hey, stranger! It's great to hear from you. I hope you're enjoying your wonderful new life in Germany.

      I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :)

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  26. Really enjoyed your post, Susan... I've always had a high respect for women! I am not surprised at all of their past, present, and future accomplishments...

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    1. Thanks, Michael. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Sounds to me like your mama raised you right. :)

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  27. Very interesting post. Some of them I knew about, but others not. Clever woman who thought about a car heater. :-)

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  28. Sisters really are 'doing it for themselves'.

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