Coffee filters. Dishwashers. Hair brushes. Windshield wipers. Computer programming language. Try to imagine how your day would go without these things.
Unless you live in a cabin in the woods and couldn’t care less about modern conveniences (in which case, you’re probably not reading this), the answer is “not well.”
Think about it: Getting ready for work probably took people 10 times as long without paper filters to make coffee, hair brushes to tame bed-head, or windshield wipers for safe driving in storms. Then, of course, once you finally got to there, you’d be doing all your research, correspondence, and clerical work without the help of a computer.
Anyone else hyperventilating yet?
The reason life no longer looks like that time-consuming nightmare is because a number of brilliant women invented things to help make our day-to-day a whole lot easier.
Here’s a look at five of them.
1. Melitta Bentz streamlined the coffee-making process.
You know how those nifty little paper sleeves keep coffee grinds out of your morning (afternoon, evening) cup o’ Joe? Well that’s all thanks to Melitta Bentz, a German woman who figured out that using paper instead of cloth to filter coffee is much more efficient.
Before she patented her invention in 1908, people used to put coffee grinds in a small cloth bag, which then went into boiling water. This often resulted in some gritty residue at the bottom of a cup of coffee. But by using a piece of paper from her son’s notebook and a pot with a few holes punched in it, Benz prevented that effect. She also essentially invented the pour over method, which coffee lovers uphold to this day.
2. Mary Anderson made car travel much safer.
It seems fitting that the windshield wiper was invented by a woman who was annoyed at being stuck in New York City traffic.
Anderson was visiting the bustling city in 1902 and decided to take a streetcar because it was snowing. However, the driver kept having to get out of the car to wipe off the windshield, which delayed her travel further. And that’s when she thought, “If only there were some device that could wipe away precipitation and allow drivers to remain in their cars.”
When she got home, she drew a sketch of the first windshield wiper. A year later, she had a patent for what she called a “window cleaning device.”
3. Mabel Williams helped girls pump up their eyelashes.
For a long time, women weren’t able to do much to make their eyelashes appear longer and fuller, though many had used a variety of ingredients in an attempt to try.
So in 1915, a woman named Mabel Williams mixed coal dust, vaseline and oils for sheen to create one of the first mascaras. Her brother saw the potential and developed a mail-order brush called Lash-Brow-Ine and launched the company — the Maybell Laboratories in Chicago.
The product caught on through print advertising, and two years later, Williams used it to launch the beauty brand — Maybelline — which might sound familiar.
4. Grace Hopper is part of the reason computers do what we want them to do (for now, anyway).
The reason computers work for us is because we feed them instructions that are then translated into code. Hopper led the team that’s responsible for the first program that did that.
After she joined the U.S. Navy during World War II, she was assigned to work on the Mark I computer at Harvard. Her team created the first computer language compiler, which was the precursor for the Common Business Oriented Language, or COBOL, that would end up becoming a computer language used worldwide.
Of course today, computers are teaching us a thing or two, but none of their complexity would be possible without this first, pivotal step.
5. Lyda Newman designed a much more useful hairbrush.
Hairbrushes today help us keep our locks from looking like knotty messes, and that’s largely thanks to Newman’s ingenious design. Her brush had evenly-spaced rows of bristles with open slots to guide things like dust and dandruff away from the hair. The hairdresser got a patent for it in 1898, but her work for women didn’t stop there.
She also worked with the African-American branch of the Woman Suffrage Party to help women get the vote in New York City. Who says activism and style can’t go together?
Women inventors are responsible for so many things on which we’ve come to rely, yet their work often goes unsung.
It’s about time we give them the spotlight they deserve.
To learn more about these and other women inventors, check out this video: