Curiosity, intelligence, and persistence – these components make up an inventor. They encourage us to change and impact the world. National Inventors’ Day gives us the chance to remember these historical inventors, like Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, and express our appreciation for changing history.
However, during the early 1900s, only less than 1% of women received patents, certificates that provide legal rights to the owner of the invention, because women were not allowed to gain an education nor a career in society. On this celebratory day, let us recognize the inspiring and remarkable women inventors throughout history.
Sarah Breedlove aka Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker suffered hair loss while working as a laundress in the 1890s. Her disorder influenced Walker to personally experiment with different remedies and to learn from her barber brothers. She also became a sales agent for an African American entrepreneur, Annie Turnbo, who created hair care products for African American women. She finally invented her own formula that healed scalps and helped with hair growth, calling it Madam C.J. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.
As a self-made billionaire, she said, “I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” Walker’s hair line not only provides representation for the African American community, but it also informs society that all women are different. Her ideas introduce how we reimagine cosmetics and hair products today.
In Philadelphia, Maria Beasley created a machine that would hoop barrels together, completing 1,500 barrels per day. Her invention earned her about $450,000 each year in today’s currency. Along with her barrel-making machine, Beasley also redesigned the life raft from flat wooden boards to foldable rectangular metal floats that are stable and efficient.
According to Jared Jones’ article from Upworthy, he describes Beasley as “something of an engineering dynamo in her time.” Her inventions and success inspire all inventors, especially women, to discover solutions that could promote safety and improve existing products and technology.
Marion Donovan, a housewife and mother, grew tired of using cotton sheets and square linens for her baby daughter. As a solution, she invented the first waterproof and disposable diaper, calling it a “boater.” Many different manufacturers rejected her invention, but their dismissals encouraged her to start her own business. Donovan’s ground-breaking idea led to creating more products for women, such as towel dispensers, facial tissue boxes, and closet organizers.
Donovan’s invention demonstrated how to take action to solve everyday problems. In addition, her perseverance encourages us to believe in our own ideas and to pursue them. As she shared, “I went to all the big names that you can think of, and they said: ‘We don’t need it. No woman has asked us for that…’ and: ‘They’re very happy; they buy all of our baby pants…’ So, I went into manufacturing myself.”
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