It should not be surprising to learn that these inventions were made by women because they were the ones who recognized what could make a day of housework easier and more efficient. They knew the cost of making a household run effectively and were always trying to make ends meet. The reasons behind the inventions may not always have been the most admirable, as in the case of Josephine Cochrane, but all of them made herstory.
InspiredByMyMom.com would like to salute these women and thank them for their contributions – some providing us with ease and efficiency; others giving us a tasty treat and a bit of fun at the end of a full day.
An early American pioneer, Sybilla Masters was the first person to be given a British patent in America and was possibly one of the first female inventors recognized for her inventions. Although she was from a fairly well-to-do family, she watched the young colonist women struggling to clean and cure the corn crops. Finding the process of grinding corn between two heavy stones to make cornmeal to be tedious and difficult, in 1715 she invented a corn pulverizer that pounded the maize into cornmeal. Since patents were not yet being issued in Pennsylvania (one of the new colonies) Sybilla travelled all the way to England to have her machine patented. Also, since patents were not issued to women at the time, it had to be issued under her husband’s name.
While still on her own in England in 1716, Sybilla secured another English patent in her husband’s name. This invention involved a process by which straw and palmetto leaves were formed and stained for the adornment of women’s hats and bonnets.
Josephine Cochrane was a fairly wealthy woman who was tired of her servants breaking her prized dinnerware every time they washed the dishes. She wanted a machine that would get the job done faster and with fewer casualties to her dishware. One day Josephine proclaimed in disgust “If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself.” She had her automatic dishwasher patented in 1886 and demonstrated her invention at the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair. It was fairly quickly adopted for commercial use and she founded a company to manufacture her invention which later became KitchenAid. However, it was not until the 1950s that her invention become a popular household appliance, relieving tired housewives of the drudgery of dish washing.
Sarah Boone was one of the first African-American women to receive a patent in the U.S. She made her name by inventing the modern ironing board in 1892. It was made of a narrow wooden board that had collapsible legs and a padded cover. It was also designed to be able to be folded and put away in a closet or other area. In her patent application, she wrote that the purpose of her invention was “to produce a cheap, simple, convenient and highly effective device, particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies’ garments.” Prior to her invention, people resorted to simply using a table or being creative in laying a plank of wood across two chairs or small tables.
One of the “tastiest” inventions comes from Nancy Johnson, the inventor of the ice cream maker. Ice cream and frozen ice desserts date back centuries and possibly as far back as to 200 BC China. The meaning of the phrase “ice cream” varies from one country to another and phrases such as “frozen custard”, “frozen yogurt”, “sorbet”, “gelato” and others are used to distinguish different varieties and styles. In the United States, Nancy Johnson had a passion for ice cream. In fact, she invented her own machine for making this tasty treat, the same basic model that we use today. Her ice cream maker was “hand” powered by the simple turn—and the many, many more turns—of a handle, which froze ice cream. After patenting her invention in 1846, she sold the patent to a travelling salesman which started the ice cream revolution.
The most “addictive” invention may have come from Melitta Bentz who, in 1908, brought us the drip coffee machine. As a housewife, Melitta found that percolators were prone to over-brewing coffee, espresso-type machines at the time tended to leave grounds in the drink, and linen bag filters were tiresome to clean. She experimented with various solutions but in the end took a simple route. She used an ordinary copper pot, poked a hole in the bottom, and layered it with her son’s notebook paper. Not a complicated process but it worked and her patent for a “Filter Top Device Lined with Filter Paper” became an instant success. Today, her grandchildren still control the Melitta Group KG with some 3,300 employees in 50 companies.
Last but not least, a little “family” fun was originally invented in 1904 by Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie who designed a board game called The Landlord’s Game. At the time she designed the game Magie believed that this game would show the world as it is hopefully inspire reforms. Thirty-one years later, a man named Charles Darrow, who stole the entire idea from Magie, sold a game called Monopoly to George and Fred Parker. After Monopoly became a hit, the brothers Parker tracked down the elderly Lizzie Magie Phillips and offered her $500 and no royalties. When Parker Brothers offered to produce an unsullied version of The Landlords’ Game, she gladly sold the rights however the board game giant quickly and thoroughly buried it, all the while slipping the name Elizabeth Magie into the memory hole with its fraudulent “history.”
We’ll probably never know about all the women inventors in herstory as they were not always recognized for their contributions. It could be that credit was taken by others; the patent may have to have been registered in a father’s or husband’s name; or for a number of other dubious reasons.
The stories of such women needs to continually be corrected, written, or made and InspiredByMyMom.com strives to be the voice of HERstory.