The world around us is filled with inventions that have greatly improved our lives physically, socially, and intellectually. In fact, many of these creations have become so essential to our lives that we can’t imagine getting by without them. Where would our military be without bulletproof vests? How many crashes have been prevented by windshield wipers? What if there was no such thing as a chocolate chip cookie?
That last one may be a bit comical, but think about it: these everyday things were once never even heard of. Thanks to these five women–all of them brilliant tinkerers and thinkers throughout history–we are able to enjoy some of the greatest inventions of all time.
Hollywood actress, Hedy Lamarr, was so much more than a beautiful face on the big screen. In addition to starring in movies such as Tortilla Flat and White Cargo, Lamarr was extremely intelligent. In 1942, she patented an idea with composer George Antheil for a “Secret Communication System” known as frequency hopping.
They developed frequency hopping to solve the problem of enemies blocking signals from radio-controlled missiles during World War II. It involved changing radio frequencies to prevent enemies from being able to detect the messages. Unfortunately, Lamarr wasn’t recognized for her contribution until over 50 years later, when it had become an essential building block for the development of GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth technology.
Lamarr was once quoted saying, “hope and curiosity about the future seemed better than guarantees. That’s the way I was. The unknown was always so attractive to me… and still is.”
In 1965, DuPont started researching ways to create a new kind of durable material. They were anticipating a gasoline shortage, and to prepare they wanted to create a new kind of tire. Heading up their team of inventors was Stephanie Kwolek. Kwolek discovered that her development of poly-p-phenylene-terephthalate and polybenzamide formed an amazing fiber.
The fiber was tested in a machine called a “spinneret” which often proved fibers to be weak and broke them down in the process. Stephanie’s new fiber did not break and, by 1971, was refined, tested further, and introduced to the world as Kevlar.
Kevlar is the most commonly used material in body armor to this day. Despite being five times stronger than steel, Kevlar is lightweight and easy to use.
Stephanie Kwolek died in 2014, but DuPont CEO and Chairwoman Ellen Kullman said, “She leaves a wonderful legacy of thousands of lives saved and countless injuries prevented by products made possible by her discovery.”
Mary Anderson was riding in a streetcar one day in 1902 while visiting New York when she noticed the driver could hardly see through his sleet-encrusted front windshield. The trolley’s front window was designed for bad weather visibility with a multi-plane windshield system but it worked very poorly. The system required the driver to open the part covered in snow or rain and move it out of his line of vision. This exposed the driver’s (and passenger’s) uncovered face to the inclement weather, which did not improve the ability to see where he was going.
Mary knew there needed to be a new method to improve driver visibility in bad weather, so she got to working on a prototype right away. She came up with a set of wiper arms that were made of wood and rubber and were attached to a lever near the steering wheel on the driver’s side. When the driver pulled the lever, the arms would move back and forth, clearing away raindrops or snow.
She received the patent for her idea in 1903, however everyone rejected her idea. Car companies thought the moving arms would distract drivers and cause accidents. She was unable to sell her invention to anyone before her patent expired.
By 1913, windshield wipers came standard in all passenger vehicles. Unfortunately, Mary never profited from her invention.
In 2002, the world was introduced to the first affordable, automatic, robotic vacuum cleaner. The creator of this magical household helper was roboticist Helen Greiner. Helen founded the company iRobot in 1990 alongside colleagues Colin Angle and Rodney Brooks. iRobot engineers worked on the design for Roomba for twelve years, studying the science of floor cleaning and observing industrial cleaners at department stores.
Helen always loved robots and was a huge fan of the Star Wars franchise. At ten years old, she was fascinated with R2D2. “He was not just a machine,” she told Dataquest. “He had moods, emotions, and dare I say, his own agenda. This was exciting to me—he was a creature, an artificial creature.” From then on, she vowed to create her very own R2D2.
Inspired by Roomba? You can simulate a robotic vacuum cleaner using your Evo and OzoBlockly programming! Check out our new EvoVac lesson here, in our Lesson Library, to try it out at home or with your class.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Not only was America’s favorite cookie invented by a woman, it was actually created by accident! Back in the 1930s, Ruth Graves Wakefield and her husband ran the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. Ruth was known for her impressive baking skills and was in charge of preparing the food for guests.
One night, she was preparing to bake a batch of Chocolate Butter Drop Do cookies (a popular recipe in those days) when she realized she was out of baker’s chocolate. Thinking fast, she decided to chop up a block of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate to use instead.
Ruth expected the Nestle chocolate to melt into the batter, as baking chocolate would, but was surprised when the chunks retained their individual form. The pieces of Nestle chocolate just simply softened to a moist, gooey melt.
Her newly invented cookies were such a huge success that she struck a deal with the Nestle Company. In exchange for a lifetime supply of free chocolate, Nestle printed Ruth’s recipe on the back of their chocolate labels. The recipe is still printed on their bags of chocolate chips today.