Who do you think of when someone says “famous inventors”?
Ask someone to recite a list of famous inventors, and it’s likely they’ll be able to recall at least a few names from the top of their head.
Albert Einstein might be one of the first, followed by Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison or maybe even Leonardo da Vinci.
But it’s unlikely that any of the names given will be those belonging to women.
The sciences have long been dominated by men; women were only granted the right to education in the late 1800’s and the first female engineer to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree, Elizabeth Bragg, was in 1876.
The First Female Engineers
1876: Elizabeth Bragg was the first officially recognised female engineer. She received her degree in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.
1912: Nina Graham was the first British woman to receive a degree in Engineering. She graduated from the University of Liverpool with a degree in Civil Engineering.
Inventions You Didn’t Realise Were Thought Up by Women
Although women weren’t allowed to study engineering until the late 1800’s, that didn’t mean there weren’t any female engineers. Many of the inventions we use today were originally thought up by a woman, whether accidentally or otherwise!
Windscreen Wipers – Mary Anderson
Mary Anderson was on a visit to New York when she noticed that her driver was forced to open his window so that he was able to clear the slow from it. Anderson watched as every time the driver opened the window, people in the car became cold.
When she got to her hotel, she started drawing her solution of a rubber blade that could be moved from inside the car, and in 1903 was awarded a patent for the device. Unfortunately, Anderson never profited or received credit from her invention, as car companies were reluctant to invest. Later, wipers became a standard fitting on cars.
The First Computer Algorithm – Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer. She is recognised for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, which was called the Analytical Engine. She is regarded as the first to recognise that the machine Babbage has made could do more than just calculate numbers and to have published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. Lovelace is regarded as one of the first computer programmers as a result.
The Dishwasher – Josephine Cochrane
Josephine Cochrane was a frequent host and entertainer. She wanted a machine that would wash her dishes more quickly, and be less likely to break them than her servants.
Cochrane designed a machine that used a motor that turned a wheel inside a copper boiler. This machine was the first automatic dishwasher.
In 1886, Cochrane’s alcoholic husband left her in huge amounts of debt when he passed away. This motivated her to patent her invention and open her own factory where it was mass-produced.
Monopoly – Elizabeth Magie
While Charles Darrow is often credited with creating the popular strategy board game known as Monopoly, a political activist named Elizabeth Magie actually created them at the beginning of the 1900’s, as a way of demonstrating the issues with capitalism.
Magie patented her original design in 1904, calling it The Landlord’s Game.
Monopoly, as we know it today, was published several decades later in 1935 by the Parker Brothers. They discovered that Darrow was not the sole creator of the game after paying him just $500 to buy the patent.
Many of the items we use and see around us today were thought up by women, even before they were allowed to study Engineering or become qualified Engineers. Other examples include the first circular saw (one of the earliest known inventions thought up by a woman), the submarine telescope, and aquariums.