16 Things You Never Knew Were Invented by Women
You can thank these brilliant female minds for making the world what it is today.
Paper coffee filters
There were no coffee makers in the early 1900s, so home baristas would make coffee by pouring hot water over a cloth bag of coffee grounds, which usually left grounds in the cup. To improve the quality, German housewife Melitta Bentz poked holes in a pot, then placed a piece of blank blotter paper from her son’s workbook inside. When she poured water over grounds on the paper, Bentz realized she’d hit on a great system. Not only did the grounds stay out of the cup, but the coffee brewed quickly and tasted better. In 1908 created her own company, Melitta, which now sells coffee, filters, pour-over and drip coffeemakers, and more. Get more inspiration from these 20 confidence-boosting quotes from women who made history.
Lillian Moller Gilbreth, born in 1878, held a master’s and doctorate in psychology and became the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering. She came up with a laundry list of inventions with a focus on making home life easier, including the foot-pedal trashcan, fridge door shelves, and a hose to drain wastewater from washing machines. She and her husband had 12 kids before he died in 1924, and two of their kids wrote books about their family life—one of which inspired the 1950 movie Cheaper by the Dozen and its modernized 2003 version.
Single mother Bette Nesmith Graham had a passion for art, but was working as a secretary in the 1950s to support herself and her son, who would grow up to play guitar for The Monkees. At that point, secretaries typically had to retype papers if there was a mistake because there was no easy way to cover the ink—so she used her painting knowledge to use. Nesmith created a paint formula, then used a brush to cover her mistakes to speed up her job. In 1956, she launched the Mistake Out Company from her kitchen, where her son and his friends would help her fill bottles to sell. After she got fired because her own company was taking her attention away from her secretary work, Nesmith earned a patent and rebranded it as Liquid Paper. (For more invention facts, read about items you never knew Thomas Edison invented.)
After Marion Donovan quit her job at Vogue to become a housewife, she got frustrated by the way cloth diapers would leak and the rubber pants over them created diaper rash. She started by addressing the leak problem by making reusable diapers out of surplus nylon parachute cloth, which she kept together with plastic snaps instead of safety pins. Her design was patented in 1951, but she sold the rights for $1 million and set her sights on a disposable diaper. Her design used a type of sturdy paper that would wick away moisture instead of holding it against the baby’s skin, but paper company executives scoffed at the idea. It didn’t catch on until Victor Mills, creator of Pampers, capitalized her idea a decade later. Donovan wasn’t defeated, though; she earned more than a dozen patents over her lifetime.
The daughter of Italian immigrants, Rose Totino wanted to open a pizza shop in Minneapolis. Legend has it, she convinced the bank to give her a loan by baking a pizza for the bankers. It worked, and Totino and her husband opened a take-out pizza shop in the 1950s. They later expanded to a sit-down restaurant, then started offering frozen pizzas for their customers to pop in the oven at home. By 1962, they were mass-producing those products. Totino later sold her business to Pillsbury and became the company’s first female corporate vice president. With the company, Totino perfected her recipe, and her fried freezer-to-oven crust recipe earned a patent in 1979. Learn about inventions their creators wish they’d never made.
Two male inventors—Charles Gabriel Pravaz of Scotland and Alexander Wood of France—independently created the first fine-needle syringes usable on humans in the early 1850s. Those early syringes required two hands, though, meaning a patient couldn’t self-administer. In 1899, Letitia Mumford Geer received a patent for a syringe that patients could safely hold in place while pressing the handle to administer drugs, which at that time went into the rectum.