Since the dawn of time, our society has advanced in many ways. Inventions have improved our health, our safety and our quality of life. And how do they come about? Well, mostly it is because creative men and women notice a problem and try to find a way to solve it.
And although men have gotten recognition for many inventions during the course of history, women have played a massive role as well, inventing a range of things that have contributed greatly toward our comfort and convenience in many different fields, including engineering, space travel, robotics, computers and many others.
For example, did you know that Margaret Knight is credited with inventing the rotary engine? What about Florence Parpart, who gave us a machine that cleans our streets? And Sarah Mather, well, she gave us the submarine lamp and telescope, while Adeline Whitney is responsible for that childhood favorite, alphabet blocks.
This is just a small sample of the many incredible inventions that women inventors have come up with during the last 200 years. But do you think you would be able to match a host of other women inventors with their contributions to our world?
Let's see how well you can do!
Actress Hedy Lamarr, together with music composer George Antheil, improbably created spread spectrum technology, using knowledge each had obtained during other pursuits. This technology helped encrypt control signals for torpedoes so they could not be jammed.
AZT was the first medicine developed to fight HIV and stop it from becoming full-blown AIDS. Its creator, Nobel Prize winner Gertrude Elion, was an American pharmacologist and biochemist. She was also responsible for many other medical discoveries, including the first immunosuppressive drug used in organ transplants.
Grace Hopper, a mathematician and U.S. Navy rear admiral, was responsible for a number of discoveries. She invented the first programming compiler in the mid-1950s and went on to co-invent the COBOL programming language later in her life. She's known as the Mother of COBOL.
In 1868, Margaret E. Knight devised a machine that first folded and then glued paper to form flat-bottomed paper bags. Charles Annan, who learned about her machine, stole the design and tried to patent it. After a court battle, which Knight won, she applied for the patent in her own name.
Josephine Cochrane earned a patent for a mechanical dishwasher in 1886. She came up with the idea because her precious heirloom dishes were getting chipped when washed. After her husband died, she put her idea into practice, first selling to hotels and restaurants. Such dishwashers didn't start to become common in homes until the 1950s.
Maria Beasley was a prolific inventor. Her barrel making machine alone made her approximately $20,000 per year, which would equal nearly half a million annually in today's dollars.
A rancher and real estate developer, Mary Anderson visited New York in the early 1900s, where she observed drivers having to stick their heads out of their windows to see during falling sleet. Once she returned to her home in Alabama, she came up with a working model of a windshield wiper that was operated by a lever. Unfortunately, car manufacturers were skeptical, imagining that the wipers would distract drivers. Anderson's patent expired before she could convince anyone to use her invention.
Working as a laundress, Sarah Breedlove noticed that her hair suffered from the harsh ingredients in regular hair products. She devised her own range of hair-care products for African Americans under the name Madam C. J. Walker. She even set up a school to train fellow African American woman in hair care, helping to create jobs for thousands of people.
Filtering was not an exact science during Melitta Bentz's lifetime, and she was determined to find a way to do it effectively. So, starting with blotting paper, Bentz tried a range of papers before she eventually perfected the perfect filter. And every morning, we thank her for it.
With over 110 inventions and close to 50 patents, Beulah Louise Henry was known as "Lady Edison." Her ''protograph" could produce four identical pages of typing. Pretty useful in a time without photocopiers or scanners!
In the 1930s, Ruth Graves Wakefield added pieces of semi-sweet chocolate to cookie dough, because she was out of her usual baker's chocolate. And aren't we glad she did, because that's how chocolate chip cookies were born!
After noticing leakage from cloth diapers, Marion Donovan tried to devise a way to use waterproof material to prevent this. Her early attempts didn't work, but she persisted and eventually created what she called the "Boater." She then went on to invent the disposable diaper – and parents around the world have been thankful ever since.
Jeanne Villepreux-Power, a naturalist, is credited with devising the first aquarium in 1832. She did so in order to observe marine creatures more closely.
Mary Sherman Morgan invented the rocket fuel that launched the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, into space in 1958. Her work only came to light in her later life when her son found out more about what his mother had achieved.
Because she worked as a nurse and returned home at different times, Marie Van Brittan Brown often didn't feel safe home alone. Together with her husband, she developed an early home security system with a camera, a two-way communication device and a simple door opening procedure.
A chemist by trade, Stephanie Kwolek was trying to find a replacement for the steel in a radial tire when she instead invented Kevlar in 1965. Five times stronger than steel, Kevlar in bulletproof vests has helped save many lives.
Objects in space can travel at high speeds; if debris connects with a satellite, it can destroy it. Jeanne L. Crews created a "bumper" from Nextel, a ceramic fabric. Lighter than aluminum, the fabric absorbs energy from a piece of space debris when hit.
In 1986, Patricia Bath applied for and received a patent for a laser called the Laserphaco Probe. It helped to remove cataracts and cleaned the eye, making the insertion of a replacement lens easier.
Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta knew that a light source that could be folded and kept until needed would be a great help to rescue workers and relief teams. They invented the LuminAID Solar Light. It takes up very little space in relief kits, needs just three hours of sunlight for up to six hours of light, and is waterproof.
Ayla Hutchinson, a teenager from New Zealand, decided to create a safety device after she saw her mother injure her finger while chopping wood for kindling. Her invention is called the Kindling Cracker. Wood is inserted into the cast iron device, then it is hit with a rubber mallet or another piece of wood, and this causes the wood to split. Much safer, indeed.
Anna Connelly patented an early fire escape in 1887 – essentially a bridge that would connect two buildings at the roof line. Since then, fire escapes have become a mandatory part of building safety codes throughout the United States.
Although it wasn't called Monopoly at the time, Elizabeth Magie put together the principles for the board game in 1903 in something called The Landlord's Game. She hoped that her game would teach people about the evils of capitalism.
Ann Tsukamoto was awarded a patent in 1991 for work in the field of human stem cell research. Her work means that we have a better understanding of how blood systems in cancer patients work and one day could lead to a cure.
Artist Patricia Billings wanted a way to strengthen her sculptures. In coming up with Geobond®, she developed a plaster that was not only indestructible, but fire resistant as well.
Although electronic typewriters were faster than their manual counterparts, one mistake and everything had to be retyped. Bette Nesmith Graham overcame this problem by using white water-based tempera paint. She originally called it Mistake Out and soon began to market it to other secretaries. The rest, as they say, is history! By the way, she is also the mother of musician and Monkee Michael Nesmith.
Despite her autism, Dr. Temple Grandin is a prolific inventor. Not only did she devise the center-track cattle restraint system but she also invented livestock handling pens that prevent cattle from getting hurt.
Not only did Ruth Handler come up with the most loved doll in the world, Barbie, but she also co-founded the famous toy company, Mattel. Barbie and Ken were named after Handler's daughter and son.
Before Mary Phelps Jacob came along, bras were cumbersome, heavy and made with whalebone, which had a tendency to stick into the skin. By combining two silk handkerchiefs and connecting them with pink ribbon, she invented the modern bra, which she called the "Backless Brassiere."
While working as a Peace Corps relief worker in Africa, Ann Moore noticed how mothers tied their babies to their backs in fabric slings. Upon her return to the United States, she devised her own carrier, which eventually morphed into the Snugli.
In the late 1890s, Lyda Newman improved the hairbrush by doing away with animal hair bristles and using synthetic bristles. Her new brush was also much easier to clean and far more hygienic.
It was while working for 3M, trying to devise a new form of rubber for jet fuel lines, that Patsy Sherman invented Scotchgard. A colleague knocked over a beaker of synthetic latex she had made, splashing it onto her white canvas shoes. She couldn't remove the latex from her shoes, but soon she noticed that they repelled water, oil and practically anything else. And so Scotchgard was born!
Realizing that a spinning round blade would cut through logs effectively, Tabitha Babbitt invented the circular saw in the early 1810s. She is also said to have invented improvements for false teeth but, due to her Shaker beliefs, she never patented any of her inventions.
Aircraft were pretty noisy in the early days of aviation. Eldorado Jones helped solve the problem by creating a muffler for engines that reduced sound but not power. She was also an early feminist, employing only women over 40 at her company, Eldorado Inventions.
Sarah Boone was given a patent for the ironing board back in 1892. Before its invention, people used to iron on a piece of wood, usually secured between two chairs.
Letitia Mumford Geer, a nurse, was granted a patent for the one-hand syringe in 1899. It is the forerunner of the modern syringes we use today.