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Women Inventors: How Women Changed Our World

Mary Anderson, Inventor of the Windshield Wiper

By Jarrett Claeys

We all can credit the windshield wipers on our cars for saving our lives numerous times. But, not too many know the story of its invention. In 1902, Mary Anderson was riding in a trolley car in New York City. It was sleeting so much that the driver had to open the front window panes to see out of the trolley. When Anderson returned to her home in Alabama, she set to work creating a windshield wiper. The device operated by moving a lever that controlled a rubber blade that would travel along the windshield knocking snow and rain off of it. However, car manufacturers didn’t see the use of the invention, declining Anderson’s invention. Anderson’s patent for the windshield wiper expired in 1920, soon after the equipment became standard for all car manufacturers, with Cadillac becoming the first manufacturer to have all car models equipped with windshield wipers. Anderson’s patent expired just as the car industry took off, and manufacturers developed their own windshield wipers instead of using her patent. Anderson made no financial gain from her invention.

Mary Sherman Morgan, Rocket Fuel Scientist

By Annika Harris

Mary Sherman Morgan's achievements in her lifetime are underrated. Morgan was known as “Rocket Girl” as she was the first-ever female rocket scientist who had no college education at all. She was born into a large farmhouse in North Dakota where she wasn't allowed to attend school until she was nine years old. When she did graduate, she received a scholarship but couldn't go because the US was deep in World War II and she had to work at a nearby weapons factory. She single-handedly saved America’s space program … and nobody knows it but a handful of old men.

After the war was over, she was the only person in the engineering facility that didn't have any type of college degree, but she was transferred there and assigned to invent a rocket fuel that would provide the Jupiter-C rocket with the power it needed to reach orbit. However, what I think is really astonishing is the fact that her work wasn’t fully appreciated until she passed away when her son mentioned that she saved America’s space program. Only a small handful of people knew because she was constrained by the top-secret status of her projects, and she was also just a very private individual.

Grace Hopper, Inventor of computer compiler

By Jaelyn Lancaster

Grace Hopper, nicknamed “Amazing Grace,” was a computer programmer that became the first person to create a compiler, a system that works as a program to translate code to machine language. Throughout her years growing up she made some amazing accomplishments that were harder for others to achieve, especially with math. She ended up getting her master's degree in 1930. After the first computer was created, she started to try and learn how to code.

“By developing programs that used word commands rather than symbols, Hopper believed that more people would feel comfortable using computers, particularly for business applications such as payroll.”

At the time, there were only mathematical codes, so everyone was in denial about her English coding system ever being accomplished and was consistently told it was not going to work. After she successfully accomplished her goal, the number of people who used computers greatly arose and she expanded the computer community.

Katherine Johnson, Pioneer Mathematician for the Moon Landing

By Caden Romero

Katherine Johnson was a human-computer working for NASA who invented the trajectory that allowed John Glenn to return from the moon landing. Johnson used Euler’s method, a tedious but effective calculus process that Leonhard Euler created for solving differential equations, to measure the path that Glenn’s space shuttle would need to travel through in order to return safely. Differential equations are equations that solve for slopes

of lines, which are essentially the directions of the lines and how steep the lines are. Since gravitational force can be measured using differential equations, Johnson discovered that she could use Euler’s method to calculate the force of gravity from the Moon and Earth on Glenn’s space shuttle to determine the best trajectory for the shuttle. Johnson went unrecognized for her successful measurements for much time; however, her contributions were highlighted in the book, “Hidden Figures,” and its movie adaptation, illuminating the importance of her mathematical genius to the success of the moon landing.

Marie Van Brittan, Inventor of Home Securities System

By Mercy Schaffert

Marie Van Brittan was a woman who invented the first home security system in 1966. She and her husband lived in Queens, and she was concerned about the crime. Due to their work schedules, she was often home alone and she wanted to protect herself. She worked with her husband, an electrician, to create a system of cameras and a speaker. Her system was comprised of three peepholes in the door; one at a child’s height, one at a tall person’s height, and one for an average-sized person. There was a camera behind the door that could move up and down to look through each peephole. These cameras were connected to a monitor that could be moved throughout the house, and to go with the monitor there were two buttons. One called 911 and one unlocked the front door. There was also a speaker allowing her to talk to whoever was at the door. She filed for a patent in 1966 and it was granted in 1969. Following this, she received an award from the National Scientist’s Committee and an interview with The New York Times. She laid the foundations for all of our home security systems today.

Tarana Burke

By Ava Garrard

Me too. These are possibly the most two important words to a survivor of sexual assault. “Me too” lets them know they’re not alone. The term, commonly used as a hashtag, has been used over 19 million times on Twitter according to Women's History. Influential terms like this don’t just appear, they’re created, and this specific one was coined by the famous activist Tarana Burke.

Burke, born in 1973, has always had a passion for activism. Women's History told how she found different ways to aid her community in the 1980s through groups mainly focused on racial injustices and discrimination. She attended Alabama State University to further her knowledge in activism. Shortly after, she found a passion for helping survivors of sexual assault. She too was a survivor.

Inspired by different women’s stories, Burke founded the non-profit organization “JustBe” in 2007 and used the phrase “me too” to empower women through their shared stories and experiences. These two words have impacted the world exponentially in recent years and have truly lived up to Burke’s expectations. Burke has won many awards and has shared her knowledge with the world throughout her years of activism. Thank you, Tarana Burke.

Maria Beasley

By Ethan Windt

Maria Beasley can most certainly be regarded as a sister of engineering. The Iowa State University Institute for Transportation, also known as InTrans, reports that she was born in 1847 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, where she ended up staying there to pursue her dream of engineering. One of the first machines that really helped get her name out there was a barrel-making machine patented in 1878. InTrans estimated that this machine earned her over $20,000 a year which would certainly translate to well over $450,000 in modern-day money.

Maria Beasley kept herself busy throughout her life. InTrans reports that during her time she had secured 15 patents from the late 1870s to the late 1890s. Many of these were for machines. She invented all kinds of things, one of her most popular ones was foot warmers; however, one could definitely say that she changed the world with the patent to improve life rafts. Because of Maria Beasley’s designs and improvements, she was able to help millions of immigrants coming to America or even the life rafts of the Titanic which helped save over 700 passengers.

Madam C.J. Walker and the Walker System of hair products.

By Frankie Bell

Born after the Emancipation Proclamation, Sarah Breedlove, renamed Madam C.J. Walker, and other black women suffered from hair loss and scalp disease because of the harsh ingredients in hair products. Since there were no products for natural hair, Breedlove decided to make them herself, and over several years developed her own line of products for back hair.

She experimented with both homemade and store-bought products to help create products that work for a variety of hairstyles on people of color, according to History. The “Walker System'' was sold directly to black women, and included scalp preparation, lotions, and iron combs. Selling based on the health of the women, not profits, earned her loyal customers, and she became the first black woman millionaire in America.

Ellen Fitz, Inventor of the Mounted Globe Heard Around the World

By Grayson Juel

One of the staples of elementary classrooms and households around the world is a mounted globe displaying the world as we know it today. Although the globe itself was invented by Gilman Joslin, Ellen Eliza Fitz was the one who invented the mount which has made the globe so prevalent in science today.

Ellen Fitz was born in Kingston, New Hampshire in 1835. She spent her teenage years translating classical texts and publishing poetry, and after graduating from school she would spend most of her adult life in Canada as a governess and educator.

The mount of her globe was very beneficial for educational purposes because it accurately helped depict the Earth’s daily rotation and annual revolution. Her work would be patented in 1875, and has been used in education to this day.

I personally believe that being accurately informed about the Earth’s rotation is something that doesn’t seem as important as it really is. Ellen Fitz made monumental strides in science and education around the world based on a simple mount for a sphere.

For more information visit here.

Katharine Burr Blodgett, Inventor of the “Invisible” Glass

By Bailey Newberry

Katharine Burr Blodgett was born on January 10, 1898, in Schenectady, New York. She attended the University of Chicago where she received her bachelor’s degree and her master's degree. Blodgett worked on gas adsorption, particularly researching the chemical structure of gas masks. After she graduated, she took a scientist position at General Electric. She worked six years at the company before going to Cambridge University to pursue her doctorate degree. There she earned her Ph.D. in physics in 1926, becoming the first woman to earn a doctorate degree from Cambridge. After she earned her doctorate, she went back to work for General Electric. Blodgett was notably the first woman scientist to work at General Electric, and through her work there she invented “invisible” or non-reflective glass. She also contributed to laying the foundations for plasma physics. Katharine is acclaimed as a top scientist, specifically one of the 1,000 most prominent scientists in the United States.

Margaret E. Knight

By Delaney Goodding

Margaret E. Knight was born on February 14, 1838. At an early age, she always had a natural skill when it came to making her own inventions. In 1886, Margaret was living in Massachusetts where she invented an attachment for paper bag folding machines. This attachment allowed paper bags to have a square bottom. When Margaret tried to receive a patent for this invention in 1870, a man named Charles Annan got to it first in hopes to steal her idea. Margaret proceeded to take Charles to court and provided enough evidence to win the rights of the patent in 1871. Further down the road, Margret received patents for a dress and skirt shield, a clasp for robes, and a spit. Followed by six patents for machines that were used in the manufacturing of shoes. When Margaret passed in 1914, she received a total of 26 patents. “Margaret showed women in her time, and in modern times, that intellectual property is worth fighting for and that women are prolific inventors.”

Hedy Lamarr: The Grandmother of Wi-Fi

By Amanda Borkhart & Drew Sandberg

The best part of my day is being able to connect my wireless earbuds to my phone so I can jam out to some music. A bigger bonus to my day is at night, laying in bed playing my favorite mobile game; it’s the roughest nights when I don’t get a good Wi-Fi connection in bed! Technology has come a long way since it was first invented but who introduced the basic foundation for things like Wifi, GPS, and Bluetooth? Bluetooth and Wi-Fi help me get through my day at school and I owe the biggest thanks to Hedy Lamarr for making it possible for me to survive! Hedy Lamarr was a movie actress who was born in 1914 and passed away in 2000. She was a beautiful movie star back in the black and white era of television. Her inspiration? Lamarr’s father often explained how different inventions worked to better society. Lamarr focused heavily on her acting career and often tinkered on the side as a hobby. It wasn’t until WWII that she was inspired to help change military intelligence. Partnering up with composer George Antheil, they worked on creating frequency hopping technologies. Lamarr’s main goal was to make radios more resilient to German forces. Receiving Antheil's composing expertise and help, Lamarr was able to use a small piano mechanism to change radio signals to different frequencies-- 88 to be exact! Lamarr’s invention was rejected by the military and wasn’t used until the 1960s. But her work was able to give other inventions a foundation for building satellite communications, like GPS, Bluetooth, and our favorite, Wi-Fi! For more information, click here and here.

Ada Lovelace created the First Computer Algorithm

By Cayden Carlson

Ada Byron (born in 1815) was the only child of a poet, her father who died when she was nine years old, and a mathematician, her mother. Her father left just weeks after Ada’s birth, but her mother insisted that she have expert tutors to teach her math and science. When Ada was only 17 years old, she met Charles Babbage (a famous inventor at the time). He quickly assumed the role of her mentor. The most popular invention he was known for was creating an early version of the calculator. Several years later after many weeks of work and research, Lovelace created the very first computer algorithm in history. The model of the Analytical Engine Lovelace made was similar to the calculating device that Lovelace worked on with Charles Babbage. The design of Analytical Engine was designed so that it could follow patterns (better known today as codes) to calculate numbers and write letters. Sadly, Babbage never got enough funding to complete his and Lovelace’s invention, and her main research was eventually forgotten. Luckily, in 1953, her notes were discovered and republished. Her ideas on how the machine would process information were used to make the basic function of the very first computer. Her research was so crucial and important that the U.S. Department of Defense named their newest computer language “Ada” to credit her research in 1979.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

By Jacob Ohsann

On a starry night in 1967, Jocelyn Bell Burnell was doing her usual work, in a field studying the universe. Hoping to find information on quasars, she found something completely new. She had just completed her bachelor's degree two years prior at the University of Glasgow. After this she would turn her focus on a Doctorate at the University of Cambridge, achieving it in 1969. And for her thesis she chose to study quasars, and to study these she chose to use radio astronomy (A relatively unexplored field at the time). Quasars are active galactic nuclei that have a supermassive black hole within, often created by colliding galaxies. Her first two years at Cambridge involved her building a radio telescope 5 acres in size designed by astrophysicist Anthony Hewish.

Come late August Burnell noticed irregular signals emitting short radiation bursts. She brought her findings to Hewish and was met with skepticism. At first, these signals were labeled as interference from cars or radios. Convinced something was awry, Burnell continued to examine similar signals in the records. Fellow members working on the project began noticing similar signals as well. This reinforced her view of finding something new. Anthony Hewish coined the term “pulsating star”, eventually shortened to the pulsar. Her findings on pulsars are considered one the most important of the 20th century Because it confirmed theories about how the stars evolve and change. Pulsars are highly magnetized and rotating neutron stars that emit beams of radiation that can be observed. This finding received a Nobel prize, but not for Burnell. Being a research student on the project precluded her from receiving one. Even though she didn't receive a prize, Burnell is the reason we can tell a pulsar from radio interference.

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