Quick! Name an inventor. Now name a female inventor…
According to Plato, necessity is the mother of all invention, but it seems the “mother” part of that is purely metaphorical because by gosh and by golly, it’s pretty dang hard to name female inventors, isn’t it?
A few days ago I highlighted the history of the sports bra, invented by women. But pfft you might say. That’s just for boob folks, it hardly counts.
Ok. How about something a bit more ubiquitous. Like say….the windshield wiper.
Mary Anderson wasn’t a New Yorker, but I’ll be damned if that woman didn’t act like one. On a visit to the city that never sleeps, Mary grew frustrated that the street car driver had to keep getting out of the vehicle to clear the snow, thus delaying Mary and her fellow passengers. Ah. Good old fashioned NYC impatience, now that really IS the mother of invention. Mary went back home to Birmingham and Alabama whamma ding dong, started working on her idea. Designs were made, and then a prototype for a “window cleaning device for electric cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice, or sleet from the window.”
Anderson was awarded a patent for her innovation….way back in 1903.
So…automotive manufacturers were all over this idea and showered Mary with praise and money and fame, right?
Nope. Manufacturers weren’t interested in Mary’s device. At least not until she let the patent run out in 1920. In 1922, Cadillac became the first car to standardize windshield wipers. By the 1940s, those window cleaners, now automated, were standard on all cars.
So we all know Mary Anderson’s name, right?
While Mary is now getting the credit she is due, for a long time, the name Robert Kearns was synonymous with windshield wipers (he came up with the idea for intermittent wipers). They even made a movie about him and his epic court fights with Big Auto. I think it had Greg Kinnear in it…
Anyway…way back in the last century, on Saturday mornings, girls like me used to watch and learn things from a series called School House Rocks. There was one about inventors called “Mother Necessity”. I went back to watch it just to make sure I was right and…nope. Not a single woman. You know what that does? It means a whole bunch of girls, like me, grew up thinking that everything in the world was invented by men. And a whole bunch of boys too.
Yet of course that’s not the case. Not at all. Women are, were and always have been inventing things. We just don’t hear about them as much. Or they didn’t get credit for them. Or paid for them. Or they weren’t considered as important. Maybe they were just for the boob brigade, right?
Mary, while alive, was one of those inventors. She never made any money for her invention. She didn’t take on the fledging auto industry and as far as I’m aware, she’s never had a movie made about her.
Mary Anderson died in 1953.
In 2011 she was inducted into the International Inventor’s Hall of Fame.
Happy Women’s History Month!
women’s history month