Do you love chocolate chip cookies? What about your smartphone? You can thank women for both of those items. Things you never realized were invented by women run the gamut from disposable diapers to windshield wipers. We enjoy many modern-day luxuries because a woman stood up and said, "There must be a better way to do things." Other staples created by accident (like over beloved chocolate chip cookies) are so embedded in the fabric of our lives we can't imagine a time when they didn't exist.
It's no secret that life was tough for women in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but that didn't stop women from deciding they'd had enough of cold baths, restrictive corsets, and unsafe buildings. Kind of like Vanilla Ice, these pioneering women stood up and said, "If there was a problem, yo I'll solve it." And solve problems they did. Women are responsible for some of the most important inventions in history.
Unfortunately, women were not allowed to acquire patents in their names until the 1800s, so we'll never really know how many women are responsible for inventions that improved the lives of millions. That being said, we can still celebrate those who bucked societal norms, and created these nine inventions you never realized were invented by women.
1. Elevated Railway System Noise Reducer
As the elevated railway system became popular in the 1800s, Mary Elizabeth Walton, who lived near the Sixth Avenue Line in New York City, experienced the noise of the trains first-hand. It's often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and perhaps the need for some peace and quiet in a city like New York was behind Walton's pursuit of a system that reduced mind-numbing train noise.
Walton was awarded a patent after she invented a noise reduction system that silences noise caused by trains running over the tracks. Her system cradled the tracks in a wooden box that was lined with cotton and filled with sand. The invention was rapidly adopted after she sold her patent to the Metropolitan Railroad for $10,000. If you live near an elevated train, you can thank Walton for your enhanced quality of life.
2. Chocolate Chip Cookies
If you're like me, there are few things better than a fresh, warm chocolate chip cookie. We have Ruth Wakefield to thank for this sweet treat. Wakefield, a dietician and food lecturer, and her husband purchased a tourist lodge named the Toll House Inn (sound familiar?), where she prepared the recipes for meals that were served to guests.
According to Women Inventors, in 1930, Wakefield was mixing a batch of cookies for her guests when she ran out of baker's chocolate. She substituted broken pieces of Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate, expecting it to melt and absorb into the dough to create chocolate cookies. While that didn't happen, the unintended result helped made her one of the 20th century's most famous inventors. When she removed the pan from the oven, Wakefield realized that she had accidentally created "chocolate chip cookies."
I want to personally thank Wakefield for enhancing my life with this accidental delicacy.
3. Disposable Diapers
Let's go back to that necessity is the mother of invention thing. Babies go through an average of 10 diapers a day. Now, I know that cloth diapers are making a comeback, but I can see why having to wash 10-plus cloth diapers a day could feel like a bit much. Apparently Marion Donovan thought so too.
Women Inventors reports that, frustrated by the thankless, repetitive task of changing her youngest child's soiled cloth diapers, bed sheets and clothing, Donovan decided to craft a diaper cover to keep her baby — and the surrounding area — dry. Donovan sat down at her sewing machine with a shower curtain and, after several attempts, she completed a waterproof diaper cover.
Surprisingly, manufacturers were not wowed by the invention. Donovan wasn't deterred. She struck out on her own, and the diaper, named the Boater, was a smashing success from the day it debuted at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1949. Donovan received a patent in 1951 and promptly sold the rights to Keko Corporation.
4. Windshield Wipers
I think we can all agree that driving without windshield wipers in rain and snow would be nearly impossible. Alabama-born inventor Mary Anderson, thought so too. While she was visiting New York City, Anderson noticed that streetcar drivers had to open the windows of their cars when it rained in order to see. This seemed not only unpleasant, but unsafe as well.
To solve the problem, Anderson invented a swinging arm device with a rubber blade that was operated by the driver from within the vehicle using a lever. Women Inventors reports that people were initially leery of Anderson's windshield wiper invention, thinking it would distract drivers (more than the rain or snow?), but by 1916, windshield wipers were standard on most vehicles.
Side note: It was also a woman inventor who first patented the automatic windshield wiper in 1917.
5. Electric Hot Water Heater
If you took a hot shower today, you have Ida Forbes to thank. Forbes was apparently fed up with taking cold baths, so in 1917, she invented the first electric hot water heater, which made hot water more accessible to people by allowing them to move away from their reliance on gas.
6. Fire Escape
It's hard to imagine going into any building today without seeing sings for a fire escape. While the dangers of fire are much less pronounced now than they were in the 1800s, it's still vital to be able to get out of a building in the event of a fire.
According to America Comes Alive, a major 1860 fire in a tenement building left many families stranded. Fire-truck ladders did not reach the upper floors of the building, and while some people opted to jump, others died in the fire.
Anna Connelly patented an iron railed fire escape bridge in 1887, which while not the model for fire escapes today, was an important first step to creating a safe way for people to escape a burning building. During a fire, people traveled to the roof where they could use the bridge to make their way to the next building and go to the ground within the neighboring building.
7. Digital Communications Technology
While you may not have heard of spread spectrum technology (the impetus for digital communications), it's a secret communications system that was developed to help combat the Nazis during World War II. The technology works by manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.
Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr is the woman behind this invention. Though it was patented in 1941, it wasn't until the Cuban Missile Crisis and that the technology was widely used. Additionally, Lamarr's invention helped galvanize the digital communications boom, forming the technical backbone that makes cellular phones, fax machines, and other wireless operations possible.
8. The Modern-Day Bra
It is often said that women suffer for beauty. Some beauty devices, like corsets, were so restrictive that a special couch (the fainting couch) was created so women could lie down when they were having trouble breathing.
The first bra was basically a corset for your breasts made of whale bones and steel rods. Sounds comfy, right? Mary Phelps Jacob thought there had to be a better way. The New York socialite was tired of antiquated corsets after finding it impossible to prevent the support rods from poking out from underneath the fabric of her evening gown.
Determined to create a more comfortable, less cumbersome alternative, Jacob took two silk handkerchiefs and, sewed them (with help from her maid) together using pink ribbon and cord. According to Women Inventors, requests poured in from family, friends and even strangers, all of whom wanted to purchase this new undergarment. Recognizing the immense potential of her invention, Jacob patented the "Backless Brassiere" and began selling the units under the name "Caresse Crosby."
9. Paper Bag Machine
Oh the joy of paper bags. We use them for everything from free cat toys to school book covers. In many cities in the United States, plastic bags have been outlawed, and paper bags are making a comeback. We have inventor Margaret E. Knight to thank for the modern day paper bag.
Knight went to work at a paper bag manufacturing company after the Civil War. At the time, paper bags did not have a flat bottom. Can you imagine carrying your groceries in a bag that wasn't shaped like a rectangle? Knight thought the design of the bags was poor, so of course she invented a machine that could produce flat-bottomed paper bags.
Knight almost didn't receive credit for her genius idea that is still used today, thanks to a man named Charles Annan who attempted to steal her thunder. Knight took Annan to court to vie for the patent that rightfully belonged to her. According to Women Inventors, Annan argued simply that a woman could never design such an innovative machine (you know, because men are smarter), Knight presented evidence that the invention belonged to her. The court agreed, and Knight received her patent in 1871.
So there you have it: Women rock. But, hey, you already knew that.