It is through imagination and inventive thinking that we change the future. From the games we play and how we communication, to 3D vision and harnessing the Sun’s energy, our worlds are forever changed from invention to invention, no matter how big or small.

Though there have been thousands of women inventors throughout history, they rarely to get the recognition that they deserved. Women were barred from scientific and academic institutions, excluded from historic documents, and denied the rights to their own property (including their intellectual property). Yet their inventions have changed the course of history time and time again! Here are just 8 incredible female inventors and their inventions.

If you’ve been inspired by these amazing inventors, head to the iOi Junk Bots activity, where you can explore how you can prototype your own inventions.

1 Valerie Thomas (b. 1943) – Illusion Transmitter, 1980

American scientist and inventor working with NASA, Valerie Thomas, received a patent in 1980 for the Illusion Transmitter. The Illusion Transmitter uses with light and concave mirrors, which unlike flat mirrors produce images that appear to be inside or behind the mirror, in order to create images that appear to be 3D, or in front of the mirror. Thomas’ invention revolutionised how images were sent from space. We also have Thomas to thank for other imaging, such as 3D TVs and MRIs.

2. Ellen Fitz – (1836 – 1936) – Terrestrial Globe, 1875

In the early 1870s, American governess, Ellen Fitz, invented a terrestrial globe mount that was designed to help students understand the effects of the Earth’s daily rotation on its axis and yearly revolution around the Sun. Using two vertical rings the mount illustrated on the globe the changing daylight, twilight and night-time hours any place on the Earth. Fitz obtained a patent in 1875 and published a handbook to accompany her invention. She was the first woman (recorded) to be involved in the design and manufacturing of globes.

3, Hedy Lamarr (1914 – 2000) – Spread Spectrum Technology, 1941

Austrian inventor and actress Hedy Lamarr was a pioneer in the field of wireless communications. Along with co-inventor George Anthiel, she developed a ‘Secret Communications System’ patented in 1941. The technology was created during WWII to manipulate radio frequency and protect classified messaged being intercepted. Their invention went played a huge role the digital communications boom and made technologies such cellular phones, fax machines and wi-fi possible.

4. Margaret Knight (1838 – 1914)– Flat Bottom Paper Bag, 1871

Working in a Massachusetts paper bag plant, Knight re-imagined the paper bag with a flat bottom, making it far more efficient and easier to use. From this idea, Knight went on to make a machine that automatically folded and glued paper-bag bottoms. A man names Charles Annan attempted to steal Knight’s idea and received credit for the patent, however Knight took Annan to court and received her patent in 1871, and went on to file over 20 patents in her lifetime.

5. Marie van Brittan Brown (1922 – 1999) – Closed Circuit Television System (CCTV), 1966

Working night shifts as a nurse, Marie van Brittan Brown invented a home security system made out of a motorized camera, four peepholes (to see at different heights), a television monitor, a two-way microphone, and a remote control that could unlock doors if needed. This system created a closed-circuit television system, also known as CCTV.  Brittan and her husband received a patent for this invention in 1969. She was interviewed in the New York Times about her invention the same year and was later granted an award from the National Scientists Committee.

6. Bette Nesmith Graham (1924 -1980) – Tip-ex (Liquid Paper), 1956

Applying the same principle that artists used when using white paint to correct their works, Bette Graham wanted to make erasing typos made by early typewriters. Experimenting with different paints, Graham started editing her typing mistakes in the office, and as the tale goes, her colleagues started asking her for bottles too. She began marketing her ‘Mistake Out’ in 1956 which she later sold to Gillette for $47.5 million in 1979.

7. Elizabeth Magie (1866 -1984) – The Landlord’s Game, 1903

Elizabeth Magie was a game designer who created The Landlord’s Game, a precursor to Monopoly, to illustrate the economic theories of political economist and journalist Henry George – that the economic value acquired from land should belong to all members of society equally. The patent was filed in 1903, when women represented less than 1% of women applying for patents in the US.

8. Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (1912–2006) – The Sanitary Belt, 1957

Mary Kenner was a self-taught inventor who received a patent for her sanitary belt in 1957. Before the invention of adhesive pads in the 1970s, Kenner’s sanitary belt held a firm pad in place using two clips attached to an elastic belt which goes around your waist and offered an easier, disposable menstrual product. Kenner received another 5 patents in her lifetime, including a serving tray and a soft pocket that could be attached to a walking frame, and a toilet tissue holder that made sure the loose end of the roll was always in reach.


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