Women inventors have helped shape the modern world in many ways. Notable innovators like Ada Lovelace, who is considered the world’s first programmer, have paved the way for today’s technologies. Others, like Stephanie Kwoleck, have improved safety with inventions like Kevlar, which is five times stronger than steel and used to make bulletproof vests and combat helmets. And some female inventors have made life a little bit sweeter — you can thank Ruth Wakefield for coming up with chocolate chip cookies.
But despite so many notable accomplishments, women haven’t always gotten due credit for their inventions. While the Patent Act of 1790 allowed both men and women to protect their inventions with patents, women in many states couldn’t legally own property independent of their husbands.
Many women inventors thus registered patents in their husbands’ names or didn’t bother with patents at all. In 1809, Mary Kies became the first woman to receive a U.S. patent. It was for her method of weaving straw with silk, a technique she used for making hats.
In honor of Women’s History Month, here’s a look at 10 inventions you may not have known were pioneered by women.
The Monopoly Board Game
The earliest version of Monopoly was invented by Elizabeth Magie, who patented “The Landlord’s Game” in 1903. At the time, Magie — a stenographer and secretary who also performed comedic routines on stage — was among the 1% of patent holders who were women. However, a man named Charles Darrow encountered the board game, then pitched a version of the concept to Parker Brothers three decades later while he was unemployed during the Great Depression. The game turned him into a millionaire, but in recent years media coverage in NPR and The New York Times have set the record straight.
Life Raft Improvements
Before serial inventor Maria Beasley came along, life rafts were simply made of flat, wooden panels. Beasley, an American entrepreneur, secured 15 patents from the late 1870s to the 1890s, including one for improvements to a life raft that was designed with guard rails and that could be easily stored in case of an emergency. Some say her life rafts were the ones that helped hundreds of passengers when the Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean, although it remains unclear if this is true. Regardless, her design has paved the way for modern-day life rafts. Additionally, Beasley was a prolific inventor whose portfolio also included foot warmers, barrel-hooping machines and a device to stop trains from derailing.
If you’re a coffee lover, you can thank Melitta Bentz for keeping those bitter grounds out of your morning cup of joe. From her kitchen in Dresden, Germany, Bentz invented coffee filters using a piece of blotting paper from her son’s notebook and punching holes in a brass pot. Then she put the pot over a cup, which allowed filtered coffee to drip into it. She received the coffee filter patent in 1908 and Melitta coffee filters are still sold today.
Wi-Fi, GPS And Bluetooth Technologies
Considered “the mother of Wi-Fi,” Hedy Lamarr was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame posthumously for the development of her frequency-hopping technology that could guide torpedoes without being detected. This technology led to wireless communications like Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and cell phones. Lamarr was also a World War II film star believed to have inspired the looks of Disney’s Snow White and the original DC Comics Catwoman.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ruth Wakefield, who ran the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts starting in 1930, used an ice pick to break up a semi-sweet chocolate bar into morsels. She then mixed the morsels into a brown-sugar dough — and this became the beloved chocolate chip cookie. The recipe was popularized after she sold it to Nestle in 1939, which reprinted it on its packages of chocolate chips. The company also hired her to write recipes. Here’s how to make the original chocolate chip cookie.
Noticing that streetcar drivers had to open their windows in order to see during inclement weather, sometimes even stopping to manually clear their windshields, inventor Mary Anderson came up with the idea for windshield wipers. Her idea, which she patented in 1903, consisted of a lever inside the vehicle that controlled a spring-loaded arm with a rubber blade. The windshield wiper was eventually adapted for cars as personal vehicles became more popular.
Home Security Systems
Often coming home late from her job as a nurse in Queens, New York, African American inventor Marie Van Brittan Brown came up with the idea for the modern-day home security system. Along with her husband Albert Brown, who was an electronics technician, Van Brittan Brown invented a security system that had peepholes, a sliding camera, television monitors and two-way microphones. The device also had a remote that would allow her to unlock the door and an emergency button that could send an alarm to police or security. The couple received the patent for the home security system in 1969 and the closed-circuit television system that arose from her invention is still used today.
Florence Parpart improved refrigerator design with a patented refrigerator attachment in 1914. Prior to her invention, people used iceboxes, usually made of wood and lined with metal to store an ice block that kept food cold. Parpart’s attachment used an electric system to circulate water throughout the appliances to keep them cold, turning her into one of many women who have made significant contributions to our homes and how they operate. Before she revolutionized refrigerators, she got a patent for a street sweeper to automate the process of cleaning city streets.
In 1973, Shirley Ann Jackson became the first Black woman to earn a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While working at Bell Laboratories, she tapped her deep knowledge of theoretical physics to foster breakthroughs in telecommunications, which led to inventions like the touch-tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables and caller ID. And that’s just one small part of her career; she has also chaired the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, co-chaired the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (Under President Barack Obama), served on the boards of IBM and FedEx, and was president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for over two decades. She is now a board member of The Nature Conservancy.
True Word Processors
An expert in logic design and data transmission, Evelyn Berezin designed one of the earliest computer reservation systems for airlines. Exasperated with the limits placed on women in tech, she co-founded Redactron in 1969. The company produced the “Data Secretary,” which became the first electronic word processor for business use and was aimed at simplifying secretarial work. The device was based on an IBM Selectric Typewriter and had programmable logic and 13 semiconductor chips, some of which Berezin designed.