Archive for Thursday, December 8, 2005

Women inventors

December 8, 2005

The patent act of 1790 opened the door for everyone, male or female, to protect his or her invention with a patent.

Many states would not allow women to own property independent of their husbands. Because of this, many women did not bother to patent their inventions.

According to, Connecticut native Mary Dixson Kies broke that pattern on May 5, 1809, receiving the first U.S. patent issued to a woman. Kies invented a process of weaving straw with silk or thread. First Lady Dolley Madison praised her for boosting the nation's hat industry. Unfortunately, the patent file was destroyed in the great Patent Office fire in 1836. Until about 1840, only about 20 other patents were issued to women. Most of the women's inventions related to apparel, cook stoves, tools and fireplaces. and contain reports on these inventions, created by women:

¢ Sarah Mather received a patent in 1845 for the invention of a submarine telescope and lamp. The device permitted seagoing vessels to survey the depths of the ocean.

¢ Martha J. Coston received a patent in 1871 for her deceased husband's rough sketch in a diary for plans for flares. The U.S. Navy bought the patent rights to the flares, which eventually formed the basis of a communications system that helped save lives and win battles.

¢ In 1868 Margaret Knight received her first of at least 26 patents at the age of 30. When she was 12 years old, she had an idea for a stop-motion device that could be used in the textile mills to shut down machinery, preventing workers from being injured. She also designed the machine that makes the flat-bottomed paper bags we use today.

¢ In 1843, Ada Lovelace laid some of the early conceptual and technical groundwork for high technology by helping to develop what is considered the first computer program.

¢ Mary Anderson was awarded a patent in 1903 for a window-cleaning device, a forerunner to the windshield wiper.

¢ In 1904, Lizzie Magie invented The Landlord's Game, which later became Monopoly.

One sign that the world is beginning to appreciate the intellectual contributions women can make is the increasing participation of women in technical fields. According to Susan Davis Herring, engineering reference librarian at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, by 1999 the percentage of women in engineering had increased by about 70 percent in the previous 10 years - which means women represented about 15 percent of the total number of engineers in the United States.


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