- 1Invention: Windshield Wipers
Real estate developer, rancher and viticulturist Mary Anderson added inventor to her resume in 1903 when she patented the first effective set of windshield wipers. Anderson was living in New York City at the time and noticed that the trolley car on which she was riding had an open front windshield. The open window was necessary to allow the driver to see the road under falling sleet, but was less than optimal for the freezing passengers within.
Accordingly, Mary Anderson invented what would become the first working version of windshield wipers featuring a rubber blade attached to a spring-loaded arm that could move across the windshield to clear snow, ice and rain. She received a patent for the ice and attempted to sell the rights to the gadget however her potential buyer didn't feel the idea would ever amount to anything and declined. Fast forward about a century and the so-called useless idea is now standard on cars, trucks, busses and dozens of other things with wheels.
- 2Invention: Kevlar
Like many good things, Stephanie Kwolek's invention was made almost unintentionally. Kwolek studied chemistry with the desire to become a doctor and along the way took a research position with the DuPont company. It was there that she started to work with long molecule chains at low temperatures and after she gained national attention for her work, she shifted career paths to research chemistry.
In 1971, Kwolek discovered a very strong synthetic liquid crystalline polymer solution. At a strength of five times that of steel but much lighter, resistant to wear and corrosion, this invention would become what we know now as Kevlar. This ingredient is widely used today in multiple products such as bulletproof vests, safety helmets, camping gear and even suspension bridges.
- 3Invention: The Disposable Diaper
Fed up with the messiness that came with soiled cloth diapers, Fort Wayne, Indiana, mother Marion Donovan began inventing what would eventually become the disposable diaper. Donovan's first invention came in the late 1940s when she took a shower curtain and sewed it into a waterproof cloth diaper cover. After the product was panned by manufacturers, she continued to improve on the design including adding plastic snaps and branding the item as the "boater."
Finally, Donovan was able to sell the product to Saks Fifth Avenue and later sold her company, along with the patents, to the Keko Corporation for a cool $1 million. In 1961, Victor Mills used the product as inspiration to create the first disposable diapers, Pampers.
- 4Invention: Vacuum Packaging
Though she didn't invent food, or storing food in jars, scientist Amanda Jones reinvented the way we store food with the vacuum method of canning. Later known as the Jones Method, Amanda Jones and Professor Leroy C. Cooley collaborated on the process that allowed food to be preserved for much longer, way back in 1872.
Jones attempted to make a business out of the invention, founding the Women's Canning and Preserving Company in 1890 in Chicago, Illinois. Unfortunately for her, the business, which employed only women, failed. However her method of canning permanently changed the food industry forever.
- 5Invention: Liquid Paper ("White Out")
Way before changing something we'd written was as simple as using the backspace or delete button on our keyboards, mistakes had to be corrected directly on paper. Thanks to Bette Nesmith Graham, rather than having to start over after a writing or typing mistake, errors could be quickly and easily corrected using her invention.
Graham was working as an executive secretary in the 1950s when she grew tired of having to retype a document any time she made an error. So Graham took it upon herself to invent a white, water-based tempura paint that could be used for covering up typing errors or small spelling mistakes. The idea caught on, with Graham first marketing the product as "Mistake Out." These days, those that still use the pen and paper may know this time-saving invention as White Out or Liquid Paper.
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