woman in front of machine with glass plate.

15 Important Inventions You Might Not Know Were Made By Women

Throughout history, women have made vast contributions to the world with their spectacular inventions, but do you know their names? It’s likely that several of the mechanisms, devices, and systems you use in today’s world can be traced back in time to an ingenious woman who helped develop them. Far too often, important female names are buried in the past, erasing their names from everyday households.

Take a moment to learn about many of the women who have changed the world as we know it with their groundbreaking inventions. 

Computer Software: Grace Hopper

Hand typing.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Perhaps one of the most well-known names in science, Grace Hopper contributed to numerous successes in the computer and programming industries. Hopper was one of the first three modern programmers and a rear admiral in the Navy who made groundbreaking discoveries in the world of computer languages.

Hopper is perhaps best known for inventing COBOL (common business-oriented language) in 1959, which became the “most extensively used computer language” in the world by 1979. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016—the most prestigious civilian honor in the US—for her significant breakthroughs in computer science.

Dishwasher: Josephine Cochran

open dishwasher with clean plates.
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A wealthy socialite from Illinois, Josephine Cochran, innovated the idea of the first dishwasher out of a desire to reduce the work she had to put into washing dishes. Her 1886 patent proved successful.

Unlike previous attempts at developing a dishwasher using scrubbing elements, which often chipped fine china, Cochran’s invention used water pressure. In the 1880s it was far too expensive for all households to afford a dishwasher, so she founded Cochran’s Crescent Washing Machine Company which would eventually become the well-known brand KitchenAid.

Kevlar Fiber: Stephanie Kwolek

Bulletproof vest.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Known as one of the strongest fiber materials in existence, Kevlar was pioneered by chemist Stephanie Kwolek in 1966. Kowlek created many different synthetic fibers while working at DuPont’s Pioneering Research Laboratory, the most famous being Kevlar.

Kevlar is an extremely strong, lightweight, and heat-resistant synthetic fiber that is 10x stronger than steel. It was eventually used to replace asbestos and is also currently used in bulletproof vests and other ballistic protective wear.

Fire Escapes: Anna Connelly

Fire escape.
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High-rise buildings were becoming more and more prevalent in the 1880s, and Anna Connelly knew that certain issues posed risks to tenants—especially being unable to escape from upper-floor fires.

Connelly devised a design for fire escape ladders and stairs, allowing trapped tenants to flee and move from building to building on platforms as well as down to safety on the ground. Her genius invention was beneficial to firefighters too, who no longer had to enter the flaming buildings and instead could attach their equipment to the fire escapes.

First Drugs for Aids & Leukemia: Gertrude Elion

Gertrude Elion and George Hitchings in their laboratory 1948.
Photo Credit: GlaxoSmithKline plc, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The development of a method known as “rational drug design” was established by Gertrude Elion and her colleague George Hitchings. Their research allowed them to interfere successfully with cell growth, helping to revolutionize drug-making.

Eventually, their work proved to effectively treat many different conditions, including AIDS, herpes, leukemia, and more. Elion went on to discover azathioprine as well, an immunosuppressant that makes it possible for patients with weak immune systems to receive organ transplants.

Ice Cream Machine: Nancy Johnson

Ice cream scoop.
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The first hand-cranked ice cream machine was created by Nancy Johnson, and patented in 1843, an incredible 100 years before freezers would come around. Her machine was made up of an outer wooden pail, an inner tin cylinder, and a paddle connected to a crank.

To make ice cream, the outer pail had to be filled with crushed ice, the inner cylinder with ice cream mix, and then the machine was manually cranked to churn the mixture. Then, the ice had to cool as the ice cream set to become a frozen treat, ready to eat.

Non-reflective “Invisible” Glass: Katharine Burr Blodgett

Katharine Burr Blodgett inventor of invisible glass in lab demonstrating equipment in 1979.
Photo Credit: Public Domain, Smithsonian Institution from United States, via Wikimedia Commons.

Having made several cutting-edge discoveries in the field of surface chemistry, Katharine Burr Blodgett most significantly invented non-reflective or “invisible” glass. As the first woman to receive a doctorate in physics from Cambridge University, Dr. Blodgett used her research to create coatings for eyeglasses as well as improve lenses used in cinematography.

She also contributed to the enhancement of the smokescreen that helped protect soldiers from toxic smoke exposure.

Stem Cell Isolation: Ann Tsukamoto

A Liquid Nitrogen bank containing suspension of stem cells. Cell culture for the biomedical diagnostic.
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Asian American scientist Ann Tsukamoto helped innovate the first method of isolating blood-forming stem cells in 1991. She holds a remarkable twelve US patents for her vast stem cell research, which has significantly assisted in the advancement of understanding blood systems in patients.

Tsukamoto's research is leading to better cancer treatments and, eventually, one day, even a cure. Today, Tsukamoto continues her important work conducting further research into stem cell growth.

Home Security System: Marie Van Brittan Brown

Security camera.
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Marie Van Brittan Brown developed the first home security system in 1969 due to high crime rates and slow police response in Queens, NYC. Brown was a Black nurse and inventor of 32 patents in New York City. She was inspired to create the system because she often worked long hours and arrived home very late by herself.

Her innovation included a sliding camera that captured images through four peepholes in her door, as well as TV monitors to display the images, and two-way microphones for her to talk with someone outside her door. The system implemented a remote to unlock the door and a button to call the police or security.

Vehicle Heater: Margaret Wilcox

hand adjusts climate control system in car.
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Margaret Wilcox, an engineer from Chicago, patented the first internal heater for automobiles in 1893. Her design employed the already present heat generated from the vehicle’s engine to keep passengers warm on cold days during their trips.

Later on, future engineers improved upon her initial invention by figuring out how to regulate the heat for better control. Her contribution helped pave the way for modern vehicle temperature management as we know it today. 

Feeding Tube: Bessie Virginia Blount

Process of feeding the patient through tube.
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In 1948, Bessie Virginia Blount, an American nurse, physical therapist, and inventor, pioneered the practical design of the first feeding tube. The device helped deliver food into the mouths of patients when they bit down on the tube. Blount’s innovation paved the way for future feeding tube technology.

She was also known to be the first Black woman to train at Scotland Yard’s Document Division and also went on to work with World War II veterans in New York City’s Bronx Hospital, helping amputees learn to write with their feet and teeth.

Life Raft: Maria Beasley

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During the 1880s, when many immigrants were arriving by ship to the Americas, renowned Pennsylvanian entrepreneur and inventor Maria Beasley realized there was a layer of safety missing from these dangerous voyages. Her patent for the improved life raft provided extra safety components, such as guard rails, to help keep people inside the raft during emergencies if they had to abandon ship.

It also took up less space than the former wooden rafts. It is claimed that her life rafts were used in the Titanic disaster, but this has not been entirely proven. In her lifetime, Beasley furthermore went on to establish over 15 different US patents, as well as two in the UK.

Cataract Treatment: Patricia Bath

Senior woman face with wrinkles.
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As the first Black American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first Black female doctor to patent a medical device in the United States, Patricia Bath was a true pioneer.

Bath most notably invented the Laserphaco Probe in 1988, which removed cataracts from the eye without damage. This medical procedure proved to be faster, more accurate, and less invasive than previous cataract treatment methods. Bath went on to successfully develop several more ophthalmology patents in her lifetime in the US, Japan, Canada, and Europe, paving the way for even better cataract treatments today.

Caller-Id & Call Waiting: Shirley Ann Jackson

Black Telephone.
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Shirley Ann Jackson made great strides in telecommunications when her work led to the innovation of caller ID and call-waiting telephone functions. Developed using Dr. Jackson’s research at AT&T Bell Laboratories, these telephone functions would transform the world of telecommunications as we knew it in the 1990s.

Dr. Jackson was also the first African American to obtain a doctorate from MIT, wielding an impressive Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics. President Obama went on to award Dr. Jackson the highest scientific honor in the US in 2016: The National Medal of Science.

The Monopoly Game: Elizabeth Magie

Monopoly board game in play.
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Initially known as “The Landlord’s Game,” Elizabeth Magie’s 1904 invention of the infamous Monopoly game has a complicated history. Magie originally created the game as a response to the current problem of unchecked capitalism, and the “evils of accruing vast sums of wealth at the expense of others.”

Later in 1934, an unemployed salesman by the name of Charles Darrow massively profited off of copying and reselling Magie’s game idea to The Parker Brothers without giving her credit.

14 Women Revolutionizing the World of Stem Today

Dr. Yvonne Cagle stands in a NASA uniform in front of images of space.
Photo Credit: NASA.

Do you know the women groundbreakers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), transforming our world today? 

Author: Jorie Logan

Title: Writer

Expertise: Travel, Wellness, Advocacy

Jorie Logan is a copywriter, brand strategist, and traveler with extensive solo travel experience. She's passionate about sharing stories that empower women to explore their world and discover their authentic joyful selves.