10 Inventions By Women That Changed the World

Bette Nesmith Graham
Bette Nesmith Graham

Thank you to the family history site Crestleaf for contributing this blog post. Find more fascinating historical information on their blog.

When most people think about great inventors they likely think of men such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and even Bill Gates. Though these men and others innovated new products that changed our modern lives for the better, they often overshadow brilliant women inventors whose incredible contributions.

Here are just a few historical game changers that you might not know were invented by women.

1. Liquid Paper, Bette Nesmith Graham

In the 1950s, Bette Nesmith Graham was an executive secretary at Texas Bank and Trust. Electric typewriters had just hit the scene, but their carbon ribbon used to correct typing errors didn’t work very well. Because of this, secretaries had to retype documents even if just a small mistake was made. But Bette was very bright and used white tempera paint to disguise the errors in her typing. She perfected the formula in her own kitchen and patented her secretarial secret as Liquid Paper in 1958.

2. Square-Bottomed Paper Bag, Margaret Knight

Margaret Knight may have been an ordinary cotton mill worker in the 1860s, but by 1868 she invented a machine that took brown paper bags to the next level. The machine created bags with square bottoms so they could stand upright. We still use these bags today — and the machines based on her idea are still used as well. Not only did she fight to patent this invention and win in 1871, but this innovative woman received over 20 patents and thought up nearly 100 inventions throughout her lifetime.

3. Dishwasher, Josephine Cochran

In 1886, Josephine Cochran invented something that would leave dishes squeaky clean without ever having to wash and rinse by hand again: the first practical dishwashing machine. We love it to this day, but it wasn’t well received back in 1893 when Josephine presented her invention at the World’s Fair. It wasn’t until the 1950s that people took notice. Once they did, Josephine founded a manufacturer to build the dishwashers which we now know as KitchenAid.

4. COBOL Programming Language, Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

In 1943, Admiral Hopper joined the U.S. military where she was stationed at Harvard University. While there, she worked on the first large-scale computer in the U.S. – IBM’s Harvard Mark I. And in the 1950s, the compiler was invented by Admiral Hopper — a significant advancement for computer programmers that translates English commands into computer code. Not only that, Admiral Hopper would eventually oversee the development of one of the very first computer programming languages: the Common Business-Oriented Language, or COBOL. She is considered by many as the “mother of the computer.”

5. Windshield Wiper, Mary Anderson

During Mary Anderson’s first trip to New York City at the start of the 20th century, she noticed that the driver of her tram had to stop quite frequently in order to wipe snow from the front window. This was commonplace at the time. But when Mary returned home, she thought of a way to help her tram driver and every other driver around the world. Mary invented the very first windshield wiper, an invention made up of a squeegee on a spindle that attached to the inside of a vehicle. All the driver had to do was pull the handle on her contraption and the front window would be cleared. The windshield wiper was patented by Mary in 1903 and a decade later thousands of cars were sold equipped with her incredibly helpful idea.

6. Bulletproof Vest Material, Stephanie Kwolek

In 1946, Stephanie Kwolek took a position at DuPont to save money for medical school expenses, but in 1964, she still saw herself there — and for good reason. Stephanie was caught up in her research on turning polymers into extra strong synthetic fibers. After trying, trying and trying again, Stephanie came up with a fiber that was as strong as steel which we now know as Kevlar, the material used to make bulletproof vests and other seemingly unbreakable products.

7. Scotchgard Stain Repellent, Patsy Sherman

1n 1952, Patsy Sherman was hired by 3M Company to work as a research chemist. One of the few women in the field, her specialty was fluorochemicals. While in the lab one day, synthetic latex was spilled by an assistant and it landed on the assistant’s canvas shoes. Patsy and her lab partner were thrilled with what they found out from the spill: the substance wouldn’t wash away and repelled water and oil. Patsy worked on further developments with this discovery over the years and In 1956, Scotchgard was born from what could’ve been overlooked as just a mishap.

8. The Refrigerator, Florence Parpart

Though we know little about the Hoboken, New Jersey housewife named Florence Parpart, we do know that she won a patent in 1914 for an important invention that we use every day in our modern lives — the refrigerator. Her invention went on to replace numerous iceboxes in homes that were equipped with electricity.

9. Paper Coffee Filters, Melitta Bentz

In 1908, Melitta Bentz was just a German homemaker who was tired of bitter coffee. She sought to fix this problem and create a cleaner-tasting cup of coffee by using a piece of blotting paper from her son’s school notebook and puncturing a brass pot with holes. Not only did this new type of coffee filter and brewing method produce a great-tasting cup o’ joe, but also a more efficient disposal of the coffee grounds. Melitta patented her incredible invention in 1908. The Melitta company is still around today and ran by her grandchildren in Germany.

10. Chocolate Chip Cookies, Ruth Wakefield

Though the chocolate chip cookie was an accidental invention, it’s also one of the most delicious inventions ever created. In 1930, Ruth Wakefield stumbled upon this sweet invention while whipping up a batch of Butter Drop Do cookies for guests inside the kitchen of her inn and restaurant — which was once a toll house. Melted chocolate was needed in the cookie recipe, but Ruth was out of baker’s chocolate. She instead crumbled up a chocolate bar to add to the batter. The chocolate pieces were meant to melt like baker’s chocolate, but this wasn’t so. Instead those crumbled pieces kept their shape and the Chocolate Chip Cookie was invented.

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