Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Women as Inventors


The evolution of the woman lawyer, physician, bookkeeper, stenographer, journalist, artist, teacher, writer, etc., from the ill paid farm household and factory drudge of the earlier part of the century, is one of the signal triumphs of modern civilization. But women's rapid advance in these lines of progress has been splendidly supplemented by the parallel advance of the woman inventor. That queer turn for original, utilitarian mental progress has probably always been woman's capability as well as man's, but woman's recognition in this field was slow to come.

For years many of woman's inventions were patented under men's names, and although the first patent to a woman was issued as far back as 1809, to Mary Kies for straw weaving with silk or thread, it was not until the great Centennial Exposition, in Philadelphia in 1876, when articles ranging from a dish washer to a mowing machine were exhibited among women's inventions, that there came a realization, not only of women's ability to invent, but woman's right to hold patents in her own name. As early as the sixties the largest foundry in the city of Troy was run to manufacture horseshoes, turning them out one every three seconds, and while the machine which did this work was invented by a woman the manufactory was carried on under a man's name. The best improvement upon Doctor Franklin's discovery of an iron-lined fire-place, for purposes of heating, was a stove invented by a woman, but the patent was taken out in a man's name. Another woman invented the attachment to the mowing machine whereby the knives are thrown out of gear whenever the driver leaves his seat, thus lessening the liability to accident. But though this feature is embodied in the later mammoth machines, she received no credit, the patent not being taken out in her name. The first large establishment in this country for the manufacture of buttons, the Williston's, was due to a woman, though it was run under a man's name.

The inventor of the seamless bag was Miss Lucy Johnson, who died near Providence, Rhode Island, August 22, 1867, aged seventy-eight. It was in 1824 that "she wove seven pairs of seamless pillow-cases and received a premium at the fair held in Pawtucket in October of that year." Those pillow-cases are supposed to have been the first seamless bags ever made, but ignorant of the value of her invention Miss Johnson took no steps to secure a patent, and while her mode of weaving has since been engrafted on the power loom and patented, yielding a fortune to the patentees, Miss Johnson spent the closing years of her life dependent upon friends and the charity of her native town.

The self-fastening button is a woman's invention, die machine for making satchel-buttoned paper bags was a woman's invention and a very important one, having been long tried for by men without success. Most of the designs for carpets, oil-cloths, calico and wall papers were women's work from the beginning, as were also designs for the embossing of paper, monograms, etc., but for this work little was credited to them, for the reason that women had not come into their own in the industrial world. However, after women became heads of establishments and came to own manufactories as well as to have designed the work done in them, and, above all, when woman had come to win recognition for her mental equality with man, inventions patented in women's names multiplied with astonishing rapidity.

From a report from the clerk of the Patent Office curious details in regard to women's inventions may be gleaned Though the second patent issued to a woman named Mary Brush in 1815 was for a corset, the patents to women have come to embrace all articles from dress improvers to submarine telescopes, and although to a certain extent it might still be said of women's work along this line, as has been remarked of the male inventor, "the road to wealth is paved with the inventor's bones," still a few women have realized large fortunes from their inventions. A California woman invented a baby carriage which netted her over fifty thousand dollars, and an Illinois woman invented a portable house, which can be carried about in a cart or expressed to the seashore, with folding furniture and a complete camping outfit, and from this she gains a good annual income. A woman in Pennsylvania has invented a barrel-hooping machine which brings her twenty thousand dollars a year. Two California girls are the inventors of a snow plow to be attached to the cow catcher of an engine, and the proceeds from this have well repaid the time and ingenuity given to perfecting their patent. A Maryland woman has distinguished herself by many inventions and among them was the eyeless needle now used so largely by surgeons. Though the sewing-machine was invented by a man there have been some fifty improvements made by women, and these have proved very profitable inventions. The geographical distribution of the inventive talent is also interesting. Most of the women inventors of the country live in New England and the middle states, few patents having been taken out by Southern women.

Quite a number have come from the West. Massachusetts has more inventive women than any other part of New England.

While women have been more or less conspicuous in the fields of literature and education of all countries, from the early history to the present day, we can feel an especial pride in our women inventors. It would be impossible, in this work, to give a complete list, we therefore have selected the more prominent, particularly those who have made inventions along unusual lines for women, mechanical devices and improvements on implements which are not for feminine use but for the benefit of man. We also give short biographies of a few of the most conspicuous women in this line.

The last patent extended under the Act of Congress of March 2, 1861, was that of Henrietta H. Cole, fluting machine.

The first patent found granted to a woman was that to Mary Kies, Killingly, Connecticut, straw weaving with silk and thread.

Among the patents granted prior to 1836 are found the following:

July Planten, Philadelphia, Pa., foot-stove.
Elizabeth H. Bulkley, Colchester, Connecticut, shovels, scythes, spades, etc, of cast steel and iron.

The following are some of the inventions made by women. The patents upon these have all expired:

Brush for cotton gins, car couplings (several), combined plow and harrow, construction of railroad tracks, ginning cotton, gate for railway tracks, grain clipping machines, grain scouring machines, wheat cleaning machines, mining machines, separating tin from other metals, paving blocks (several), fire escapes, ladders for fire extinguishing apparatus, fire-proof doors or shutters, nozzle for oil-cans, over-flow indicator, snow plow, stage scenery, machine for printing peripheries of spools etc., hydrocarbon furnaces, road cart, snow shovel and scraper, machine for laying wall-paper, transfer apparatus for traction cable cars.

Martha P. Jewett, Evansville, Indiana, composition of matter to be used for the purpose of fluxing metals.
Alice M. Jayne, Bradford, Pennsylvania, mail-binder.
Sarah E. Peeples, Washington, D. C, insulated pipe joints or couplings.
Rebecca T. Swenning, Los Angeles, California, process of preparing backgrounds on pile fabric
Julia B. Mathews, Portland, Maine, hot-air registers.
Zina A. Beecher, Marysville, Ohio, attachment for cultivators.
Eliza J. Bentinck and J. A. Renner, Galveston, Texas, digging machine.
Lucy A. Coming, Rockford, Illinois, baling press.
Adeline Widmayer, New York, New York, dumping wagon.
Annie H. Chilton, Baltimore, Maryland, combined horse detacher and brake.
Elina M. Wright, Hartford, Connecticut, forming decorative panels.
Mary L. McLaughlin, Cincinnati, Ohio, method of decorating pottery.
Ora Orr, Westport, California, combined child's carriage and cradle.
Sarah A. Reinheimer, Winchester, Indiana, barrel tapping and emptying device.
Dell M. Hawes, Ortonville, Minnesota, pneumatic tire.
Margaret E. Knight and A. B. Harrington, South Framingham, Massachusetts, window frame and sash.
Florence M. Carr, Chicago, Illinois, ornamental grill work.
Eliza Wilcox, Ashley, Michigan, carpet stretcher.
Ada V. Goltermann, New York, New York, fire escape.
Rena M. Howe, Scranton, Pennsylvania, closure for bottles or jars.
Rebecca H. Hayes, Galveston, Texas, cooking stove.
Simon W. and Clara A. Kinney, St. Louis, Missouri, steam cooking utensil.
Hiram A. and Maria Benedict, New York, New York, gridiron or broiler.
Margaret E. Jehu, Estherville, Iowa, apparatus for cooking, baking, etc.
Kate L. Brewster, Kearney, Nebraska, collapsible cover supporting frame for dough receptacles.
Therese R. Fischer, Baltimore, Maryland, skewer for closing fowls.
Susana Ilgen, Miles City, Montana, ventilated can cover.
Priscilla M. Bums, St Louis, Missouri, flour sifter with reversible bottom and cover.
Alice A. Whipple, Providence, Rhode Island, portable foot warmer, etc.
Helen A. Robinson, Clymer, New York, preserving jar.
Ida L. McDermott, Baird, Texas, preparing fruit for canning or preserving.
Jennie D. Harvey, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, mayonnaise mixer.
Mary M. Harris, Chicago, Illinois, refrigerator.
Harriet W. R. Strong, Los Angeles, California, method of and means for impound-ing debris and storing water.
Mary M. Vogt, Rochester, New York, device for teaching vocal music.
Sallie T. Andrus, Aurora, Illinois, combination trunk, bureau and writing table.
Anna Dormitzer, New York, New York, chair for washing windows.
Ariette Baird, Riverhead, New York, combined baby tender and crib.
Virginia C. Baltzell, Madison, Wisconsin, apparatus for hanging and adjusting window curtains.
Fannie A. and E. N. Gates, Fitchburg, Massachusetts, water-heating system.
Agnes McFadyen, Lincoln, Nebraska, heating and ventilating apparatus for buildings.
Harriet Carter, Brooklyn, New York, composition of matter for saving fuel.
Augusta R. Isaacs, New York, New York, fire box and grate for ranges, stoves or heaters.
Mary F. Bishop, Bridgeport, Connecticut, hot-water heating device.
Julia Strong, Brooklyn, New York, exercising machine.
Fannie M. Caries, New York, New York, instrument for chiropodists' use.
Helen A. Blanchard, New York, New York, surgical needle.
Ida M. Hemsteger, Chicago, Illinois, protector for blisters, poultices, etc.
Lizzie Lane, Dunellen, New Jersey, electrical head clamp for relieving pain.
Nancy L. Turner, Washington, D. C, motor.
Geo. B. and Amy F. Robinson, Colorado Springs, Colorado, variable driving gear.
Julia Samson, Salt Lake City, Utah, portable binder for sheet music, etc.
Frances Higbie, Brooklyn, New York, music stand.
Albina E. and J. Edson Goodspeed, Boston, Massachusetts, pump.
Elizabeth V. Vanvorce, Madison, Wisconsin, pipe connection.
Margaret E. Knight, South Framingham, Massachusetts, numbering mechanism.
Alice A. Whipple, Providence, Rhode Island, apparatus for sanding railway tracks.
Marguerite Maidhof, New York, New York, car fender.
Minnie McPhail, Taunton, Minnesota, car coupling.
Emma A. Streeter, New York, and B. W. Nichols, Herkimer, New York, spike.
Mame Lester, Logansport, Indiana, attachment for unloading box-cars.
Mary E. Cook, Amity, Oregon, railway car stove:
Margaret A. Wilcox, Chicago, Illinois, car heater.
Sarah B. Walker, Castle Rock, Colorado, ornamental screen.
Mary E. Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, hemstitching attachment for sewing
Elizabeth Calm, New York, New York, cloth-winding attachment for sewing machines.
Anna H. Clayton, Louisville, Kentucky, motor for sewing machines.
Katy Fenn, Chicago, Illinois, multiple record.
Anna M. Parks, Albany, New York, punching machine.
Marie L. Fuller, New York, New York, mechanism for the production of stage effects.
Margaret De Witt, Kansas City, Missouri, face-steaming appliance.
Mary V. Seidell, Washington, D. C, hair curler.
Eleanor M. Smith, Baltimore, Maryland, toy or doll house.
Lizzie C. Cozens, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, trunk.
Mary F. Blaisdell, Franklin, Maine, combined trunk and couch.
Rebecca E. Hooper, San Francisco, California, guide shield for typewriting machine.
Mildred M. Lord, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, washing machine.
Josephine G. Cochrane, Shelbyville, Illinois, dish cleaner.
Georgiana Ferguson, Mount Vernon, New York, window cleaner.
Frances S. Dowell, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, wire clothes line.
Alice A. Pyle, Richmond, Virginia, carpet-cleaning apparatus.
Oriella I. Littell, Washington, D. C, cleaning and polishing compound.
Mary Tucek, New York, New York, method of producing garment patterns.
Louise Schaefer, Oneida, New York, method of and apparatus for making patterns.
Libbie A. Call, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, measure for laying off dress charts.
Annie L. Faestel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, tailors' drafting device.
Helen K. Ingram, Jacksonville, Florida, railroad cars.
Mary D. Wiedinger, Chicago, Illinois, window guards.
Maria R. Hirsch, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, commutator brushes.
Lizzie B. Fleming, Pierce City, Missouri, wheel-cleaners.
Mary Louisa Campbell, Noyan, Province Quebec, Canada, hammer guard for fire-arms.
Sallie S. Pharr, Marshallville, Georgia, planter.
Alida M. Marcoux, Milford, Massachusetts, filling replenishing looms.
Charlotte R. Manning, Meriden, Connecticut, method of finishing metal articles.
Margaret A. Mack, Cleveland, Ohio, carriage-pole protector.
Nancy May Ingle, Chetopa, Kansas, air-cooling fans.
Sarah E. Ball, Ritchey, Will County, Illinois, weeder.
Bertha and Mary E. Baumer et al., Troy, Ohio, horse releasing devices.
Cora L. Jones, Stoughton, Massachusetts, rolling toys.
Minnie Averill, Joplin, Missouri, toy bee hive.
Abelina C. Asczman, Chicago, Illinois, nozzles for fire-extinguishers.

Helen Augusta Blanchard
Was born in Portland, Maine. Owing to the death of her father, she found it necessary to turn her inventive genius and talent into a means of livelihood, and in 1876, established the Blanchard Over-seam Company, of Philadelphia, from which other industries have sprung. One of her inventions is the Blanchard over-seaming machine, which is for sewing and trimming at the same time of knitted fabrics; also crocheting and sewing machines. These machines are used largely in manufactories, and are considered among the most remarkable mechanical contrivances of the day.

Betsey Ann Stearns 1830 ~
Mrs. Betsy Ann Steams was born in Cornish, New Hampshire, June 29, 1830. Her maiden name was Goward. As a child she entered the weaving mills of Nashua, saving her money from her labors to educate herself. June 5, 1851, she married Horatia H. Steams, of Ackton, Massachusetts. Mrs. Stearns is well known for her dress-cutting invention, which was awarded the highest prize in the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, 1876. She organized the Boston Dress-Cutting School, with branches in other states, and now the Stearns's tailor method for cutting ladies' and children's clothes is in common use.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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