Margaret Knight (1838 to 1914) – American inventor with 87 patents to her credit. I wonder how many male fishermen realize they have a woman to thank for the reels on their fishing rods?
March is National Women Inventors’ month. Students rarely hear about great women inventers in school but there were quite a few of them. In celebration of the recent award of a Certificate of Filing to the Garland Area Makerspace from the State of Texas as a an official nonprofit, licensed to do business in the state of Texas, it’s more than appropriate to pay homage to women and children makers and inventors.
We already know about people like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Eli Whitney and other male inventors, but few have ever heard of women such as Margaret Knight. Yet, she was probably the most famous 19th Century woman inventor. Margaret was born in 1838 in Framingham Massachusetts. By the time she died in 1914, she held no less than 87 U.S. patents.
Among her many designs and inventions is the flat-bottom paper bag that we take for granted today. In 1868 Knight invented a machine that folded and glued paper to form the flat-bottomed brown paper bags familiar to us today.
Margaret’s most remarkable invention to me was one that she made when she was only 12 years old. Her father died when Margaret was young and the family moved to Manchester, New Hampshire. She left school and went to work with her siblings in a cotton mill. When she was 12, Margaret witnessed an accident where a worker was stabbed by a steel-tipped shuttle that shot out of a mechanical loo. Within weeks she invented a safety device for the loom that was later used by other cotton mills.
Health problems prevented Knight from continuing to work at the cotton mill but she went on to hold many other jobs including home repair, photography and engraving. In 1867 she moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and was hired by the Columbia Paper Bag Company. Some of her other many inventions included lid removing pliers; a numbering machine, a window frame and sash and several patents related to the rotary engine.
Do you know who was responsible for the electric refrigerator?
Florence Parpart with her invention of our modern day refrigerator. She filed the patent in 1914. She not only invented the refrigerator and put the old-fashioned ice boxes out of business, she also marketed them at trade shows.
Never discount the vast potential for creating useful inventions offered by young minds.
Rachel Zimmerman 12 year old inventor with her Blissymbol Printer (1984) – Courtesy Space University
Margaret Knight doesn’t have the corner on 12-year old female inventors. In 1984, Canadian Rachel Zimmerman, at the ripe old age of 12 invented an apparatus to assist people who have difficulty communicating. Her software program enables nonspeaking people to communicate through the use of symbols. Her invention, the Blissymbol Printer transcribes the symbols into written language. Today, after completing degrees in physics and space studies, she works for NASA.
Here in the DFW area, we have our own special female inventor heroine.
Bette Nesmith Graham—--born March 23, 1924 Dallas – Died May 12, 1980 Richardson-- single mother, secretary at Texas Bank and Trust invented “Liquid Paper” (First named “Mistake Out”). She sold her first batch in 1956. Nine years later she had a new corporate headquarters with annual sales of more than a million units. She maintained the company until 1979 when she sold it to Gillette Corporation for $47.5 million. (Just in time for Bette as personal computers were introduced about five years later. There is a lot to be said for knowing when it is time to leave the party.)
Who do you think invented the windshield wipers?
Mary Anderson and a copy from her patent for windshield wipers filed in 1903
It’s difficult to imagine a world with moving vehicles that don’t have windshield wipers, but such was the world for Mary Anderson. She visited New York City in 1902 and noted the frequent delays when the streetcar driver had to stop and wipe off the windshield. She returned home to Alabama and invented the windshield wiper. Her invention was manual with a handle inside for the driver to move when needed.
Anderson got many letters of rejection for her invention—most of which said that the patent was not of such commercial value as to warrant their consideration. Although she never earned any money for her window cleaning device, She finally got posthumous credit in 2011 when she was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame.
Come celebrate makers with us and meet the Women and Men who are building the Garland Area Makerspace. We would love for you to join and work with us to create an inventor incubator for our community.
We are creating a makerspace for our community that will become a warm, diverse and productive incubator for innovators and inventors of all ages and genders. We invite you to bring your ideas and assets to our next meeting.
We are open to the public
We meet at 7PM on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at the North Branch of the Garland Library (located in a strip mall). 3845 North Garland Avenue – Garland Texas 75040