10 Women in History Who Make Your Life Easier

Reach-for-the-sky inventors and innovators like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison and George Washington Carver are noted for their contributions to science, space, technology, agriculture and more. But did you know that dozens of ingenious, pioneering women are also credited for a plethora of everyday products that make your life easier at work and at home?

For Women’s History Month, we honor these determined, trailblazing women and share highlights on 10 of them here, in alphabetical order.

Melitta Bentz (1873-1950) For keeping you fully caffeinated at work, you can thank German housewife Melitta Bentz. Prevailing through countless rounds of trial and error in her home kitchen, Melitta created the paper coffee filter in 1908. Her patented system trapped coffee grounds inside absorbent paper allowing brewed coffee to drip into a separate cup. The Melitta™ coffee filter system is now a hugely successful global business.

Katharine Burr Blodgett (1898-1979) American physicist and surface chemistry pioneer Katherine Blodgett is the genius behind you not getting red eyes and crow’s feet when you squint at your computer screen. Katharine was an accomplished trendsetter in attaining a number of firsts for women—the first female to earn a doctorate in physics at Cambridge University and the first woman hired by General Electric. Katherine contributed to World II research on gas masks and de-icing airplane wings. Her most noted innovation is non-reflective glass, which is still widely used in computer screens, eyeglasses, camera lenses and windshields.

Josephine Cochrane (1839-1913) This brilliant inventor deserves hearty applause for patenting the first commercially successful automatic dishwasher in 1886. Josephine designed her dishwasher in the shed behind her home and engaged the assistance of a mechanic to help her build out her prototype. Much like today’s efficiency models, Cochrane’s invention used a wire rack and high pressure to scrub dishes clean. Now if you could just get all your coworkers to load their own dirty dishes.

Sally Fox (1959-present) You know those comfortable, colorful shirts you wear to the office? You can send a thank-you note to cotton breeder Sally Fox. In the late 1980s, the scientist and dedicated farmer revolutionized the cotton industry with her naturally colored cotton that could be spun into thread on a machine. Clothing giants including L.L. Bean, Levi’s, Land’s End and Espirit use Sally’s FoxFibre® organic, non-GMO cotton. Each of her new colored cotton plant varieties takes about 10 years of plant breeding and growing.

Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972) American industrial engineer, psychologist and educator Lillian Gilbreth developed methods to improve workplace efficiency, particularly the movements and amount of time needed to complete a specific task. In the early 1900s, the mother of 12 designed the foot-pedal trash can and later a type of electric food mixer. She patented a number of common kitchen and household appliances, including an improved electric can opener and refrigerator shelves. Like Midwest Maintenance’s commercial cleaning services, Lillian understood the healthful effects of ergonomics and keeping germy areas in the workplace clean.

Bette Nesmith Graham

(1924-1980) Back in the day, when people used electric typewriters, Bette Nesmith Graham came to the rescue for correcting typing errors. You probably still use her invention whenever you need to touch up a simple mistake on a document. The single mother and bank secretary applied her artist training to mix a white tempera paint for a typo cover-up. She called the magic formula Mistake Out. By 1958, Graham’s fledging business sold 100 bottles a month. Ten years later, she renamed the patented product Liquid Paper® and monthly was selling 40,000 bottles. A few years before she passed, Bette’s company was selling 500 bottles a minute worldwide.

Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992) Let’s all give a shout out to the pioneering work of Navy Rear Admiral and American computer scientist, Grace Murray Hopper. Without Grace, where would we be in our computer literacy? Grace who earned her master’s and Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale, joined the navy during World War II and was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University. One of the first three computer “programmers,” Grace programmed the groundbreaking Mark I computer and wrote its 561-page user manual. She worked on top-secret calculations for the U.S. war effort. With a post-war career as a computer programmer for major corporations, Grace oversaw the team that invented the original user-friendly business computer software, COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language). Throughout her lifetime, Grace was awarded more than 40 honorary degrees for her remarkable contributions to computer science and the world.

Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014) If you’re in law enforcement, emergency response, industrial manufacturing and a number of careers that need high tensile-strength personal protection equipment (PPE), salute Stephanie Kwolek. A lifelong research chemist at DuPont, Stephanie gained national recognition in 1960 for her specialty work on long molecule chains at low temperature. Her synthetic fiber research culminated in 1971 with in the breakthrough invention of Kevlar®. The heat-resistant material is five times stronger than steel yet lightweight and comfortable. Kevlar is widely used for in bulletproof vests, helmets and PPE clothing to protect against thermal, chemical, electric arcs and other workplaces hazards. Kevlar is also a key component in tires and fiber optic and suspension bridge cables.

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) Who could have imagined that a beauty icon would help develop the digital technology that you rely on every day? Unlike some of the other brilliant female inventors, Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr was more popularly known as an American film actress. Even at age 5, Hedy, took apart and reassembled her music box to understand how the mechanics worked. Her striking looks took center stage until she moved to Hollywood in 1937. She appeared in her first English-language film, Algiers, and soon met others with an inventive spirit. Hedy’s credits also roll with her genius in co-inventing a secret communications system to take down the Nazis in World War II. Hedy teamed up with composer George Anthiel to develop an unbreakable code for radio transmission and reception. Their technology is the foundation for today’s digital communications including Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth.

Patsy Sherman (1930-2008) So you dropped your gooey lasagna on the carpet by your manager’s office. No worries. Thanks to Patsy Sherman, a 3M research chemist, the mess will clean right up. After earning degrees in chemistry and mathematics, Patsy joined the Minnesota-based 3M company in 1952 as one of only a few women in the field of research chemistry. She was assigned to create a new type of rubber for airplane fuel lines. A year later, an accident in the lab led to one of the history’s most notable products. Patsy’s fluorochemical rubber concoction spilled on a lab assistant’s canvas tennis shoes. The mixture repelled water, oil and other liquids without changing the shoe’s color. Patsy and her co-inventor, Sam Smith, named the stain-resistant fabric protector, Scotchgard™. Together they developed a full line of Scotchgard products for clothing, household linens, upholstery, and yes, that carpet outside your manager’s office.

We are grateful for dishwashers, foot-petal trash cans, Scotchgard and all the other invention conveniences that help us keep workplaces clean and safe. We are always here to assist you with a complimentary cleaning assessment of your business. Just give us a call at 402.733.1114 or email us at service@midwestinc.net.