What do the inventors of the following
products have in common?
They were all women.
There are many interesting facts about
female inventors that you probably don't know. For example, women
were not allowed to own property during parts of the 1700s and
1800s. Since patents are considered property, women were not allowed
to get patents on their inventions.
For example, Ann Mathews invented a
process for cleaning and curing corn in 1715. She is believed to be
the first woman whose invention eventually received a patent,
although it was granted to her husband. Some inventors applied for
patents by using their initials instead of their first names, and it
is likely that some of these inventors were women. There were other
women besides Ms. Mathews who filed for patents in their husbands'
So when did female inventors break
through the gender barrier?
Mary Kies is believed to be the first
woman known to receive a patent. She patented her process of weaving
straw with silk in 1809. Ms. Kies did not receive a patent number
for her invention, though, because the patent office didn't issue
patent numbers until 1836. Approximately 10,000 non-numbered patents
were issued prior to 1836, and most of those were lost when a fire
destroyed the patent office building that year.
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in this article]
The first black woman to receive a U.S.
patent was Sarah Goode in 1885. Goode owned a furniture store in
Chicago when she patented a cabinet bed.
In 1890 fewer than 1 percent of U.S.
patents were issued to women. By 2002, that number had risen to 15
In 1991 Gertrude Elion became the first
woman inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which is
located in Akron, Ohio. Elion and her colleague George Hitchings
created drugs to fight leukemia, gout, malaria, herpes and AIDS. She
was involved with 45 patents altogether and was awarded the Nobel
Prize in medicine in 1988.
Ms. Elion wasn't the first woman to win
a Nobel Prize, though. That honor went to Marie Curie in 1903. It
was another woman, Bertha von Suttner, who helped convince Alfred
Nobel to establish the Nobel Peace Prize, which she won in 1905.
Altogether, 31 women have won the various Nobel Prizes since they
were established in 1901.
It probably comes as no surprise that
women invented the first washing machine and the first dishwasher,
since women did nearly all of the housework in those days, but women
also invented the Kevlar® used in bulletproof vests, as well as fire
escapes, laser printers, Liquid Paper®, Scotchgard® and the COBOL
computer language, just to name a few.
Who told me that fewer than 1 percent
of U.S. patents were issued to women in 1890?
of Inventor's Digest magazine, who -- you guessed it -- is a woman.
Invention Mysteries is written each
week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at
© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004