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
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
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,
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.,
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
Alice M. Jayne, Bradford, Pennsylvania, mail-binder.
Sarah E. Peeples, Washington, D. C, insulated pipe joints or
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
Lucy A. Coming, Rockford, Illinois, baling press.
Adeline Widmayer, New York, New York, dumping wagon.
Annie H. Chilton, Baltimore, Maryland, combined horse detacher
Elina M. Wright, Hartford, Connecticut, forming decorative
Mary L. McLaughlin, Cincinnati, Ohio, method of decorating
Ora Orr, Westport, California, combined child's carriage and
Sarah A. Reinheimer, Winchester, Indiana, barrel tapping and
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
Rebecca H. Hayes, Galveston, Texas, cooking stove.
Simon W. and Clara A. Kinney, St. Louis, Missouri, steam cooking
Hiram A. and Maria Benedict, New York, New York, gridiron or
Margaret E. Jehu, Estherville, Iowa, apparatus for cooking,
Kate L. Brewster, Kearney, Nebraska, collapsible cover
supporting frame for dough receptacles.
Therese R. Fischer, Baltimore, Maryland, skewer for closing
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
Helen A. Robinson, Clymer, New York, preserving jar.
Ida L. McDermott, Baird, Texas, preparing fruit for canning or
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
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
Virginia C. Baltzell, Madison, Wisconsin, apparatus for hanging
and adjusting window curtains.
Fannie A. and E. N. Gates, Fitchburg, Massachusetts,
Agnes McFadyen, Lincoln, Nebraska, heating and ventilating
apparatus for buildings.
Harriet Carter, Brooklyn, New York, composition of matter for
Augusta R. Isaacs, New York, New York, fire box and grate for
ranges, stoves or heaters.
Mary F. Bishop, Bridgeport, Connecticut, hot-water heating
Julia Strong, Brooklyn, New York, exercising machine.
Fannie M. Caries, New York, New York, instrument for
Helen A. Blanchard, New York, New York, surgical needle.
Ida M. Hemsteger, Chicago, Illinois, protector for blisters,
Lizzie Lane, Dunellen, New Jersey, electrical head clamp for
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
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
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
Mame Lester, Logansport, Indiana, attachment for unloading
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
Elizabeth Calm, New York, New York, cloth-winding attachment for
Anna H. Clayton, Louisville, Kentucky, motor for sewing
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
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
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
Mary Tucek, New York, New York, method of producing garment
Louise Schaefer, Oneida, New York, method of and apparatus for
Libbie A. Call, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, measure for laying off dress
Annie L. Faestel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, tailors' drafting
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
Charlotte R. Manning, Meriden, Connecticut, method of finishing
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
Cora L. Jones, Stoughton, Massachusetts, rolling toys.
Minnie Averill, Joplin, Missouri, toy bee hive.
Abelina C. Asczman, Chicago, Illinois, nozzles for
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.
Source: The Part Taken by Women in
American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle
Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.