Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Necessity is not the mother of invention … these women are!

Written By: Paul Niemann
Market Launchers, Inc.
“Very learned women are to be found, in the same manner as female warriors; but they are seldom or never inventors.” -- Voltaire

What do windshield wipers, COBOL and Scotchgard have in common?  All were invented by women!

We will take a look at the above three inventions that have had a major impact on society. In addition, here are a few other well-known products created by female inventors that will be featured in future columns:

•        Bulletproof vests
•        Fire Escapes
•        Laser Printers
•        Flat-bottom grocery bags
•        Certain drugs that fight diseases such as childhood leukemia, herpes, gout and the first drug to fight AIDS drug, AZT

By the way, how many of the inventors of the above products can you name?

Windshield Wipers:

Some inventions are created as the result of a person simply trying to solve a problem. That’s what Mary Anderson of Alabama did in 1903 when she invented windshield wipers. On a trip to New York City, while touring the city on a streetcar, she noticed that the motorman had to continually get out to wipe the snow and ice from the windshield. The man had tried a variety of solutions to this problem but nothing had worked.

After making a quick drawing in her sketchbook, Mary came up with a solution to the problem. Her solution, which would be patented a year later, allowed the motorman to sweep the snow and ice away with a device that was operated from inside the car. This became the forerunner to the modern windshield wiper. Even though wipers had become standard equipment on American cars by 1913, Mary never profited from them.

The U.S.S. Hopper:

Grace Murray Hopper developed COBOL (which stands for COmmon Business Oriented Language) in 1959 while she was in the Navy, and she was also the Navy’s first female admiral. COBOL was more like natural English than any previous computer language. It was the first programming language mandated by the Department of Defense for its applications and, in recognition of her contributions, the Navy named one of their destroyers in her honor, the U.S.S. Hopper.

COBOL served as a foundation for later computer languages and it’s likely that we wouldn’t have the World Wide Web today if it weren’t for COBOL. Another contribution that Grace Hopper made was the term “computer bug.” No, she didn’t invent it, but she is the one who coined the term. She did this when a computer processor had stopped working due to a moth that was stuck in it.


Some new products are the result of an accident. Penicillin, Post-It Notes, Silly Putty and Ivory Soap are all examples of accidental discoveries. You can put Scotchgard in this category, too.

Patsy Sherman created Scotchgard in 1952 while working as a chemist for 3M in Minneapolis. Sherman’s team had been trying to develop a new kind of rubber for use in aircraft fuel lines when an assistant in her chemistry lab accidentally dropped a beaker full of a liquid rubber mixture onto the floor, splashing onto Sherman’s white canvas sneakers.

When they tried to wash it off, the water and solvents beaded up and ran off the sneakers. Sherman and fellow chemist Sam Smith realized that the mixture could be used to protect fabrics from water and other fluids. After three years of work, the mixture was patented and released as Scotchgard Protector ™ in 1956.

In a 1997 speech to students, Sherman explained that being an inventor does not require a lot of money or education, nor is it a matter of age or gender. She once remarked, “How many great discoveries would never have occurred were it not for accidents?”

At this point, what have we learned about the abilities of women inventors?

Is it that women would achieve MORE success than their male counterparts if they had the same opportunities as men? Or LESS success? Or are women and men equal as inventors?

The answer to that question is as tough to figure out as removing red wine from a couch that wasn’t protected by Patsy Sherman’s invention.

Market Launchers is an amazing resource for inventors!  Visit their website at www.marketlaunchers.com.
Post a Comment