May is National Inventors Month, a month set aside to recognize the curiosity and imagination of people who innovate and create.
Last Friday’s post highlighted the following female inventors: Jeanne Villepreux-Power, Margaret Knight, Josephine Cochrane, Mary Anderson, and Sarah Breedlove. You can read the post here.
Here are five more innovative women from across history:
Melitta Bentz (1873 – 1950)
German entrepreneur Melitta Bentz was frustrated with the coffeemakers of her time. The percolators often over-brewed coffee, the espresso-style machines left grounds in the drink, and the linen bag filters were difficult to clean. She experimented with different materials and finally found a solution: blotting paper from her son’s school exercise book. She inserted the blotting paper inside a brass pot perforated with a nail, obtained a patent, and set up a business to manufacture the filters. She sold hundreds of filters within a year, including 1,200 at the 1909 Leipzig Fair alone. By 1928, her company employed dozens of people. Beloved for her generous bonuses and work schedules, she also created “Melitta Aid,” a social fund for her company’s workers. The Melitta Group is still making coffee, coffee makers, and filters today.
Beulah Louise Henry (1887 – 1973)
American inventor Beulah Louise Henry submitted her first patent for a vacuum ice cream freezer while still a college student in 1912. In 1924, she moved to New York and founded two companies to sell her many inventions. She is known for 110 inventions and 49 patents. In the 1930s and 1940s, she shifted her attention to improving existing machines, including typewriters. One of her patents was for a “protograph,” a typewriter that created an original and four identical copies without using carbon paper. She spent the 1950s and 1960s working as a consultant for companies.
Ruth Graves Wakefield (1903 – 1977)
A university graduate, American entrepreneur Ruth Graves Wakefield began her career touring as a dietician. In 1930, she and her husband bought the Toll House Inn, which became famous for Wakefield’s delicious and innovative desserts. One day, she took an ice pick to a block of chocolate and added it to the cookie dough. The chocolate chip cookie was born! When she added the recipe for the cookie in her best-selling cookbook, the Nelson Chocolate Company noticed a spike in demand for their semi-sweet chocolate. They approached Wakefield and obtained the rights to the recipe.
Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992)
When mathematician Grace Hopper began her computer science career, all programs were written in numerical code. Determined to make programming more accessible, Hopper invented the first compiler in 1952, enabling teaching computers to “talk.” Her colleagues initially dismissed the compiler, informing Hopper that “computers could only do arithmetic.” She later co-invented the COBOL computer language, the first universal programming language used in business and government. During Hopper’s naval career, she achieved the rank of Rear Admiral by special Presidential appointment and was nicknamed “Amazing Grace.” Quotable quote from Hopper: “The most important thing I’ve accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir’em up at intervals so they don’t forget to take chances.”
Virginia Apgar (1909 – 1974)
A pioneering anesthesiologist and the first female full professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Virginia Apgar realized that medical personnel had no standardized way of assessing the health of newborns. So, she developed a clear set of criteria that were easy communicate. The Apgar Score provides a handy mnemonic for areas to assess: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration. Apgar was also the author of the 1972 book, Is My Baby All Right? This book provided parents with a guide to birth defects, a taboo topic of the times. Quotable quote from Apgar: “Nobody, but nobody, is going to stop breathing on me.”