Women all over world have had brilliant ideas and inventions. It was not always easy, however, for these women to gain recognition as inventors in a male-dominated world.
Despite the obstacles that female inventors still face, the following four women have defied the odds and taught us valuable lessons about inventing, creating ideas, and becoming a reputable force in the world of innovation.
Originally from Austria, Hedy Lamarr immigrated to the United States and became an actress during the “Golden Age” of film. In addition to being a beauty icon, Lamarr also proved to be quite brainy through her work with fellow inventor George Antheil.
The pair developed the “Secret Communication System” to help fight Nazi forces during World War II. The system worked by manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, and created an unbreakable code to prevent messages from being heard by the enemy. Although it was created for World War II purposes and received a patent in 1941, this invention did not reach its full potential until the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Hedy Lamarr taught us that a woman is capable of being both a beauty icon and an incredible inventor. She stunned the world by creating an innovative and valuable invention for the war effort.
For a woman of her time, earning the recognition for being an equal force of intelligence as her male counterparts was a daunting task in itself. Lamarr hurdled many obstacles to prove to the world she was more than just a pretty face.
While raising two children and pursuing a career as a teacher, Barbara Askins decided to continue her education. She returned to school and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. Eventually, she became a chemist for NASA at the famous Marshall Space Flight Center.
At NASA she attempted to figure out a better way to improve astronomical and geological photos taken from space. This is where she developed her famous invention of using radioactive material to enhance photography negatives. Furthermore, she realized her discovery was useful for another purpose: medical X-rays. Because of her advancements in the medical field, Askins became the first woman to win the National Inventor of the Year award in 1987.
For many women in the late 1970s, becoming a mother meant the end of one’s career. Askins defied this standard by returning to school after having two children. Not only did she continue her education, she also cultivated her career at NASA into lifelong notoriety through her invention.
Barbara Askins taught women to defy the stereotypes thrust upon them. If she had never taken the challenge to better herself, we would not have her innovative advancements.
To most girls in the late 1980s, being a 12-year-old meant riding bikes and playing outside with friends until the street lights came on. For Rachel Zimmerman, being 12 in Ontario, Canada, meant becoming a young female inventor.
As a project for a school science fair, Zimmerman created a software program that uses “Blissymbols” to help those who are unable to speak due to disabilities. When using her software, users point to different symbols on a board through a special touchpad. The symbols are then translated into a written language, making communication easy for those impacted by disabilities.
Although one would see this as the highlight of Zimmerman’s career, it was truly just the beginning. The young innovator went on to study physics and space in college. She now works at The Planetary Society in California where she hopes to use NASA technology to help people affected by disabilities.
Rachel Zimmerman’s story has two lessons: 1) You are never too young to make an impact on the world, and 2) A huge success early in your career should inspire you, not limit you. Her perseverance and outstanding work ethic at such a young age led to an unbelievable invention and legacy.
Patricia Billings, a sculptor, was looking for a way to create a cement additive that would keep her sculptures from shattering. Along the way, she became one of the most famous female inventors of the 1970s.
After years of trial and error, Billings eventually created a substance she coined as Geobond®. She found that this new plaster was not only indestructible, but also heat-resistant, non-toxic, and fireproof. The invention would eventually replace asbestos, and benefit lives everywhere by replacing a toxic product with a safe one.
Billings spent years perfecting her invention. While many people become discouraged the first time their prototype fails or gets rejected, Patricia Billings taught us that we must be patient and persistent because the right idea and invention may need to go through several revisions before it is ready.
All of these women have one thing in common: they each fought the stereotype that a woman could not possibly create ideas and invent in the same way that a man could. Each woman had her own obstacles to face on top of the fact that she challenged the prejudice against women.
Whether she faced years of trial and error, or she defied the odds at a young age, each woman inventor used her struggle to create a legend as a famous female inventor.
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