March is Women’s History Month, and what better way to celebrate than looking at some of the significant contributions that female innovators have made. From mathematicians to scientists to artists, countless trailblazing women have paved the way for others to follow.
Today, we recognize 12 inventions and discoveries that wouldn’t be here today without the powerful women who created them:
Cataract treatment: Dr. Patricia Bath
Ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia Bath made history in 1988 when she became the first African-American women to receive a patent for a medical invention. She invented Laserphaco Probe, a surgical tool that uses a laser to treat cataracts. Her device provides a fast and minimally invasive way to treat the cloudy blemishes that form in eye lenses.
Dishwasher: Josephine Cochran
Josephine Cochran invented the first automatic dishwasher in a shed behind her home. She developed the first prototype that used water pressure rather than scrubbers to remove debris and patented her design in 1886. The dishwasher’s popularity skyrocketed in the 1950s, when women increasingly integrated the machine’s daily use into their homes.
3D Movies: Valerie Thomas
Valerie Thomas, an inventor, physicist, and NASA data analyst, invented the technology that helped to form advanced TV screens and 3D technology. She experimented with flat and concave mirrors that formed the basis for 3D technology. In 1980, Thomas obtained a patent for the illusion transmitter, which uses a concave mirror on the transmitting and receiving ends to produce optical illusion images. This device is commonly used by NASA today.
Globe: Ellen Eliza Fitz
In 1875, Ellen Eliza Fitz invented the terrestrial globe that displayed earth’s daily rotation in relation to path of sun. In 1882, Fitz received another patent for a globe that indicated positions of the stars above any horizon at any time of the year.
Life raft: Maria Beasley
Maria Beasley invented the life raft, which was patented in 1882. Her life rafts were onboard the Titanic in 1912, and they are responsible for saving over 700 lives. In addition to the life raft, Beasley also invented a barrel making machine in 1878 and the stream generator in 1886.
The computer algorithm: Ada Lovelace
In 1843, Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer algorithm. She worked with mathematics professor Charles Babbage and created a formula that some scholars say is the first computer program ever written. Interestingly, in 2018, that equation sold at auction in the U.K. for $125,000.
Fire escape: Anna Connelly
Anna Connelly invented the fire escape – a external metal staircase – in 1887, in an effort to prevent the deaths of residents in multi-story buildings. This safety measure precipitated one of the first New York City building codes.
Medical syringe: Letitia Geer
Letitia Geer invented the one-hand medical syringe in 1899. The syringe was made from a cylinder with a nozzle and piston for injecting or withdrawing fluids.
Windshield wiper: Mary Anderson
Back in 1902, Mary Anderson was stuck in traffic during a visit to New York City. It was snowing, and her driver had to continually get out of the streetcar to clean off the windshield. She began to sketch a blade that would clear off the windshield without having to get outside the car. She patented her idea in 1903.
Airplane muffler: El Dorado Jones
Known as “Iron Woman,” El Dorado Jones invented the airplane engine muffler. She used a series of small pinwheels that would “chew up” the sound waves and slow down the passage of exhaust gases. El Dorado also invented a lightweight electric iron and travel ironing board.
DNA Double Helix: Rosalind Franklin
British biophysicist Rosalind Franklin was the first person to capture a photographic image in 1952, known as “Photo 51,” by observing molecules using X-ray diffraction. Although she made a crucial contribution to the double helix structure of DNA, she remained in the shadows. Instead, Watson and Crick received wider recognition and won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1962.
Space rocket propulsion system: Yvonne Brill
In 1974, Yvonne Brill streamlined various rocket propulsion systems, creating the fuel-efficient rocket thruster that keeps satellites in orbit today. Brill contributed to the propulsion systems of spacecraft from TIORS, the first weather satellite, to the Mars Observer.