By Pietro Mari and Cecilia Zurla
It’s not often that we can say who invented the thousands of things we use every day. We may know that Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone or debate who invented the airplane, the Wright brothers or Santos-Dumont, but most of the time, we go about our days unaware of millions of people who contribute (in the past and now) to research and innovation that impact in our lives.
In case of women, it is even rarer. Through history, in STEM, in the arts, in all fields of human endeavour, women’s contributions have been erased from the history books. Besides being unfair, and quite honest very raging, by erasing women’s contributions we create a vacuum of examples to follow. So for thoughts of years, young women were denied a figure to identify with, to aspire, to emulate. We need dreams to dream of, and examples are such dreams.
Of course today things are different, things are better! We can dream of the stars and being among them. We can dream of the smallest things like quarks and leptons, and spend our lives examining them. But it is important to remember, to celebrate and be inspired. So Pietro Mari and Cecilia Zurla, young Italian editors for Expect Everything created this grate video to remember and to inspire: So expect everything!!!
Bette Nesmith Graham
Bette Nesmith Graham was an American typist, commercial artist, and the inventor of Liquid Paper. After divorcing her husband, Graham, her mother, her son, and her sister Yvonne moved together to a property she has inherited from her father. To support herself as a single mother, she worked as a secretary at Texas Bank and Trust. She eventually attained the position of the executive secretary, the highest position open at that time to women in the industry. At the time, it was difficult to erase mistakes made by electric typewriters. One day, he remembered that an artist never corrects by erasing, but always paints over the error, and she understood that she could use this principle to good in her daily routine. So she decided to put some tempera water-based paint in a bottle and take her watercolour brush to the office and use them to correct the mistakes she made while typing. And thus, the Liquid Paper was born!
Mary Anderson was an American real estate developer, rancher, viticulturist and inventor of the windshield wiper blade. Need is the mother of invention for sure: in a visit to New York City in the winter of 1902, Anderson observed that the people drove with both panes of the double front window open because it was almost impossible to keep the windshield clear of falling sleet. When she returned to Alabama she hired a designer for a hand-operated device to keep a windshield clear and had a local company produce a working model. Her device consisted of a lever inside the vehicle that controlled a rubber blade on the outside of the windshield. The lever could be operated to cause the spring-loaded arm to move back and forth across the windshield. A counterweight was used to ensure contact between the wiper and the window. Sadly, when Anderson tried to sell the rights to her she was told that windshield wiper had no commercial value. Once the automobile manufacturing business grew exponentially, windshield wipers using Anderson’s basic design became standard equipment.
Stephanie Louise Kwolek
Stephanie Louise Kwolek was an American chemist, best known for inventing the first of a family of synthetic fibres of exceptional strength and stiffness: poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide—better known as Kevlar. In 1964 in anticipation of a gasoline shortage, her group at the DuPont company began searching for a lightweight yet strong fibre to be used in tires. The polymers she had been working with at the time, poly-p-phenylene terephthalate and polybenzamide, formed liquid crystal while in solution that at the time had to be melt-spun at over 200 °C, which produced weaker and less-stiff fibres. A unique technique in her new projects and the melt-condensation polymerization process was to reduce those temperatures to between 0–40 °C. As a by-product of her experiments, she created a solution that looked like a dispersion but was totally filterable through a fine pore filter. This sort of cloudy solution usually was thrown away, but Kwolek persuaded technician Charles Smullen, who ran the spinneret, to test her solution. She was amazed to find that the new fiber would not break when nylon typically would. Not only was it stronger than nylon, Kevlar was five times stronger than steel by weight. In 1995 she became the fourth woman to be added to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Kwolek won numerous awards for her work in polymer chemistry, including the National Medal of Technology, the IRI Achievement Award and the Perkin Medal.
Anna Connelly, one of America’s first female inventors, is directly responsible for saving the lives of thousands of people for nearly 150 years. By the 19th century, apartment buildings were adding floors; multi-floor factories were being built, and public buildings were getting bigger. These buildings were often made of wood, so in a fire they burned quickly. Fire department ladders in cities were generally only equipped to reach the fourth floor so any people on a higher floor needed a way to get out fast. In 1861, NYC passed a law requiring exterior stairs on the outside of multi-floor buildings. This set inventors to work trying to design ways to get people out of buildings. The inventions patented included a head-mounted parachute contraption to let a person float to the ground, a basket in which people would descend, one at a time, and some roll-out ladders as well as many other designs. Thirty-three of the patents received during the years 1877-1895 went to women. Perhaps the high death toll of women and children encouraged women to address the challenge. In 1887, Anna Connelly designed an iron railed bridge. Once people escaped to the rooftop, they could use the bridge to make their way to the next building and go to the ground within the neighboring building.