Women have made numerous important contributions throughout history, including a number of significant inventions such as cataract treatment, the electronic feeding tube, malaria treatment, syringes, computer algorithms, rocket fuel, the dishwasher, and many more! In fact, the list of inventions by women is infinite. Here are some of the most influential:
Table of Contents
From very common procedures and treatments to breakthrough technologies, here are some of the inventions by women in the medical field.
Dr. Patricia Bath became the first Black woman to patent in 1988 when she patented the Laserphaco Probe. This device is used in cataract surgery to break and disperse any cataracts. Her invention was revolutionary, as she was even able to restore the eyesight of people who hadn’t been able to see for 30 years.
Electronic Feeding Tube
In 1948, Bessie Blount had perfected her version of the feeding tube, and she gave the blueprint away freely. She had been working as a nurse during World War II, and she noticed that many veterans struggled to feed themselves after having upper limb amputation. For her, that was that: she would help them by succeeding where the VA couldn’t. She spent her own money and would work through the night until 1948, when she finished developing her product.
The device would hold a meal’s worth of food, and when the user bit down on a button with their teeth, it would deposit a bite of food. Her invention helped veterans everywhere – or it would have, if the VA had accepted her product. Instead, she was met with rejection after rejection, and it wasn’t until 1952 that the French military found her design through a Canadian manufacturer and began using it.
Although the research was finished in the 1970s, it wasn’t until 2015 that Youyou Tu was awarded the Nobel Prize for her invention of artemisinin, the anti-malaria drug. She also won the Lasker Award in 2011 for the same drug.
Youyou Tu and her team turned to Chinese traditional medicine for their research, and there they found the compound in wormwood. Through trial and error, they isolated the compound by distilling it. Two decades later, artemisinin became the recommended line of defense by the WHO.
READ MORE: Ancient Chinese Inventions
Another woman has also invented an anti-malaria drug. Asima Chatterjee also turned to traditional Ayurvedic medicine for an anti-malaria drug from the plants Alstonia scholaris, Swrrtia chirata, Picrorphiza kurroa, and Ceasalpinna crista.
In 1896, Letitia Geer invented the first one-handed syringe, made with glass parts. This was a step up from the previous syringes, which needed two hands instead of one. She patented this design in 1899.
To no one’s surprise, her one-handed syringe became incredibly popular, and modern-day syringes are based on her design and patent. You can thank her the next time you get a shot!
The first computer algorithm was written by Ada Lovelace in the 1800s. She wrote papers on creating code for computers, and she created “looping,” as well, which is a type of code that repeats a set of instructions. Although her work wasn’t well-known, or even known at all, until the 1950s, she did receive recognition posthumously. You can help celebrate her accomplishments by taking part in Ada Lovelace Day, which falls on the second Tuesday of October.
Frequency Hopping: The Gateway to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
Hedy Lamarr: actress and inventor. A prolific actress in Austria, she fled to London and then the U.S. during WWII. It was there, in between takes on set, that she invented “frequency hopping” with the help of George Antheil. The idea was that the transmitter and receiver hopped frequencies together, so information could pass efficiently but securely. The nature of the hopping meant that it couldn’t be intercepted.
She invented this technology to help aim and guide torpedoes, but it has been used for quite a bit more, including all types of wireless communication. Picture your life without Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or GPS; that would be the world without Hedy Lamarr.
Hydyne Rocket Fuel
The race for space captivated the world. The math was done, and the rockets were built – the last step was actually getting the rockets off the ground. There wasn’t an existing propellant powerful enough to get a rocket off the ground until Mary Sherman Morgan stepped in.
She invented rocket fuel during the 1950s after Sputnik had already been launched. The U.S. military gave her the task of creating a new rocket fuel without changing the rocket, which is exactly what she did. She studied hundreds of compounds until she found the right combination: 60% Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine and 40% Diethylene-tri-amine, which she named Hydyne. It was a more efficient, more powerful rocket fuel. When US Explorer 1 launched, it was because of Mary Sherman Morgan.
Space Station Power System
Olga González-Sanabria worked for NASA for 32 years, in which she made some large contributions. Her biggest claim to fame: her nickel-hydrogen batteries. These improved energy storage cells were more efficient and had a much-improved performance; so much so, that these rechargeable nickel-hydrogen batteries power the space station to this day.
Imagine this: you’re typing a paper for school, a report for work, maybe even something for fun and you make a mistake. Now you have to retype the entire sheet of paper. Such was life during the age of typewriters. Then Evelyn Berezin happened.
A rising star in the computer industry, she created the first computerized word processor, the “Data Secretary.” No longer would secretaries have to retype page after page. Now, with a couple of backspaces or deletes, they could correct any mistake. The Data Secretary was designed for secretaries originally, but obviously, her invention has benefited many people beyond that.
The modern fire escape can be credited to Anna Connelly, who patented the design in 1887. In her design, the metal bridges are enclosed by railings, and instead of one big staircase or ladder, it is broken up by platforms on every floor. The platforms prevent anyone from falling several stories instead of just one.
Her design also included alarms on either side of the fire bridges that connected buildings, so that residents of each building could be alerted to the fire.
Home Security System
Go anywhere online, and you’ll see footage from someone’s Ring doorbell camera. We have Marie Van Brittan Brown to thank for that. She and her partner Albert Brown invented the first home security system in the form of the closed circuit camera, which they patented in 1969.
The camera could slide up and down to look out of four different peepholes, and the camera was connected to a monitor for viewing purposes. The system also came with a remote to open the door if the coast was clear, as well as a microphone to talk with people on the other side of the door.
Combine fashion and chemistry, and boom: you have kevlar. Stephanie Kwolek had a love for fashion and fabric before she moved on to chemistry. During her experiments, she discovered that polyamide molecules can form liquid crystalline polymer solutions when at the correct temperature. She used these polymer solutions to create industrial fibers that are stronger than steel and can withstand a gunshot. Beyond bullet-proofing something or someone, kevlar is also used to make protective gloves, helmets, and spacecrafts.
In 1882, Maria Beasley patented the life raft. It was good timing, too, as 30 years later those life rafts would come in handy in one of the most famous shipwrecks of all time: the sinking of the Titanic. It was Maria Beasley’s design that helped save countless lives not only on the Titanic but on other ships as well.
Her design focused on durability and storage. The structural design was made for easy storage and easy access, making them quick to use in an emergency. They were also made out of polyurethane and nylon, which made them waterproof and durable: two things that are very important for surviving on the water amongst debris from a shipwreck.
Due to the quantifiable nature of how her work has saved lives, Maria Beasley is considered one of the women that made the future possible.
Maritime Signal Flares
As many people did, Martha Coston felt drawn to help the war effort; in her case, helping the Union win the Civil War. After using her dead husband’s plans and firework technology, Martha Coston figured out a design for her Pyrotechnic Night Signals. They came in three different colors: red, white, and green. The colors helped to send coded messages, and the ease and convenience of her design meant easy communication between ships.
The design for these signal flares was patented in 1859, and the rights to the patent were promptly bought by the U.S. Navy. Her second, updated design was patented in 1871, and she kept the patent rights but sold the product. Her maritime flares saved many lives, both in shipwrecks and in battle.
Dating back to ancient Mesopotamia, beer was and is a part of society and culture. In ancient Mesopotamia, women brewed beer. They brewed it in large quantities to satisfy the demand, which actually started large-scale alcohol production. There’s even evidence that writing may have been invented to record the brewing process and keep track of ingredients.
It got to the point where there was a goddess for beer, named Ninkasi. Her priestesses brewed beer in her name, and they were also paid in beer for their services. Beer made the world go ‘round! Or, at least, it made ancient Mesopotamia go ‘round.
Ancient Mesopotamia isn’t the only place where brewing was a woman’s job. There’s evidence of that being the case with the Anglo-Saxons, as well; the suffix -ster for last names is a female suffix, and attached to “brew,” for brewing beer. Brewster: a female brewer. Ancient Mesopotamia has some of the oldest evidence of women brewing, however, with surviving tablets to prove it.
READ MORE: The 10 Most Important Sumerian Gods
Before Margaret Knight, flat-bottomed bags were expensive to make, and they could only be made by hand. Knight decided to change that, and she built a machine that would assemble the paper bag automatically. The machine would cut, fold, and glue the ag together by itself- a process that previously took 30 people to complete.
Knight had a monopoly on paper bags after her patent in 1879. She had her own company, the Eastern Paper Bag Company, to produce paper bags.
Melitta Bentz is the woman we have to thank for the ease of most people’s morning ritual: coffee brewing. When the process of cleaning out the coffee pot of grounds became too time-consuming and arduous, and the fabric filter alternatives too expensive, Melitta Bentx came up with her own solution.
By nailing holes into the bottom of her brass coffee pot and lining the bottom of the pot with paper, Bentz was able to create a hassle-free and inexpensive coffee filter. The company she created with that filter is still the leading coffee filter brand today.
In 1810, Tabitha Babbit invented the circular saw after allegedly watching two men struggle with a pit saw, which only moves in one direction. She created the circular saw in order to save time and energy. The circular saw was more efficient than the pit saw. Although she never patented the design, the circular saw caught on quickly and soon became the preferred saw.
We all know it, and we all love it: the automatic dishwasher. Patented in 1886 by Josephine Cochran, the dishwasher began infiltrating American society. Her dishwasher consisted of a wheel that fit inside a copper boiler. Dishes would sit inside the wheel, and as the wheel was turned by motor power, soap would squirt out onto the dishes.
The Cochrane Dishwasher was popular with businesses, but not individuals, until the 1950s. It remained mostly an industrial dishwasher for almost 70 years after its invention. After the 1950s, the dishwasher became common in American households. Cochrane’s Company was bought out by KitchenAid before she died.
Foot Pedal Trash Can
Lilian Gilbreth was all about efficiency. She invented many things throughout her life, notably the efficient kitchen design, an electric mixer, and a trash can with a foot pedal attached. Gilbreth had twelve kids, and she didn’t want to waste any time on things that could happen quicker. Why use your hands to open a trash can when stepping on a pedal would be so much easier? The foot pedal trash can was only one part of her very efficient kitchen design.
Ice Cream Maker
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. So did Nancy Johnson, until she invented the first wooden ice cream freezing machine. The invention was a wooden bucket with ice, with another tin sitting inside with the ice cream mixture. The mixture would be cranked by hand until it froze.
She patented this device in 1843, and then she sold the patent to a fabricator later on. Why go to the store to get ice cream when you can just make it at home?
Liquid Paper, also Known as White Out
We’ve talked about the pitfalls of making a mistake on a typewriter instead of a computer. What if, instead of having to retype the entire page, you could just erase your mistake? Bette Nesmith Graham had a similar thought.
She began by using tempera paint, but she moved on to creating her own perfect formula in her kitchen. She perfected it by 1958, when she patented it as Liquid Paper, and she later sold it in 1979.
Whether you love it, you hate it, or you love to hate it, Monopoly is a fixture of a board game. It wasn’t always called Monopoly, though. In 1903, Lizzie Maggie patented her Landlord’s Game as an expression of her anti-monopoly beliefs. She created two different sets of rules. The first was the anti-monopolist version, in which all players were rewarded when assets were created or collected, and the second version, the monopolist version, is the version people play today.
In 1935, Charles Darrow patented Monopoly, which was a very recognizable version of the Landlord Game. The controversy over this patent would spark decades later, when people began learning that Lizzie Maggie was the true mastermind behind the game and not Charles Darrow.
When we think of science fiction, maybe we think about monsters or aliens or futuristic settings. In Mary Shelley’s case, she thought of a doctor creating a monster in Frankenstein. This book, written as a friendly competition between friends on writing the best ghost story, is widely regarded as the beginning of science fiction. It was published anonymously at first in 1818, but later her name was appropriately attached in 1823.
Another woman is also credited with the birth of science fiction. In 1666, Margaret Cavendish wrote The Blazing World, in which she describes a kingdom accessible through the north pole. This book is the first example of something that we might consider science fiction today, and her book, also known as The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World, has been referenced by a variety of science fiction authors.