Have you ever looked around your working environment and wondered who invented all the things you use on a daily basis? What brilliant minds came up with all these things that we can’t imagine getting by without.
Well, despite pop culture’s best attempts to convince you that inventors are all eccentric old men holed up in their basements, many of our most important workplace technologies were invented by women.
Here are just a few examples:
Computer Software: Grace Hopper
Nicknamed “Amazing Grace”, Hopper served in the US Navy for more than 40 years. It is, however, her pioneering work on computer software which she’s remembered for.
A programmer on the early Harvard Mark I computer, Hopper popularised the idea of machine-independent programming languages. This, in turn, led to the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today.
Kevlar: Stephanie Kwolek
If you don’t think Kevlar is a workplace technology, we suggest you take some time to speak to an active-duty police officer or soldier.
Invented by Du Pont chemist Stepanie Kwolek, Kevlar has saved innumerable lives over the years.
Kwolek’s discovery saw her awarded the DuPont company’s Lavoisier Medal for outstanding technical achievement, the first woman to achieve the honour.
The Medical Syringe: Letitia Geer
Can you imagine how much more complicated life would be for doctors, nurses, and paramedics if they didn’t have syringes that can easily be operated one-handed?
That they have those syringes is largely thanks to Letitia Geer, who in 1899 patented the one-handed syringe that is the basis for all contemporary syringes.
Wireless Transmission Technology: Hedy Lamarr
Cinephiles predominantly know Hedy Lamarr for her work on the silver screen. Less well known is her work as an inventor.
During World War II, Lamarr conceptualised a frequency-hopping signal that could avoid being jammed. Together with composer and pianist George Antheil, she created a device for doing just that.
While the technology wasn’t implemented immediately, it laid the groundwork for all sorts of technologies we take for granted in the workplace, including the WiFi that’s likely allowing you to read this article.
Caller ID, call waiting, and other communication technologies: Dr Shirley Jackson
Dr Shirely Ann Jackson isn’t an inventor per se. For much of her career she was an out and out research scientist, pushing the bounds of practical physics.
Her research has, however, been incredibly important. In fact, its influence can be found in many of the technologies you use on a daily basis.
Perhaps most notable, however, is her pioneering work on the technology behind Caller ID and Call Waiting.
Computer Algorithms: Ada Lovelace
The only legitimate child of “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke (“Annabella”), Lady Wentworth, Ada Lovelace was a mathematical genius.
While still in her teens, she was introduced to Charles Babbage, who first conceptualised the digital programmable computer.
Recognising the potential of Babbage’s “Analytical Engine”, Lovelace realised that it had potential beyond mere calculation.
Following this realisation, she created the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. As such, she is often credited with being the first to recognise the potential of computing and the first computer programmer.
Without that vision, we wouldn’t have many of the algorithms that many of us depend on in the workplace today.
The Circular Saw: Tabitha Babbitt
When it comes to inventions, people on opposite sides of the world can come up with the same idea at around the same time.
It’s therefore important to note that while there are disputes around whether Babbitt was the first inventor of the circular saw in the world, her version (seemingly invented in isolation) is the one which most subsequent versions are based.
Babbitt apparently came up with the idea after watching men use the difficult two-man whipsaw when she noticed that half of their motion was wasted.
Her circular saw drastically cut down on the amount of effort needed to cut lumber and changed the global logging industry forever.
As a shaker, Babbitt never took out a patent on her invention, preferring to let the whole world benefit from it.