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On International Women In Engineering Day, 5 Things You Didn’t Know Were Invented By Female Engineers

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We already have a stipulated day for a general celebration of engineers. So it is only fair to wonder (in the name of equality and all that), why women engineers would need a separate day to honour them? Well, because engineering has often been considered a man’s domain. It’s a fact often exploited for laughs even in movies like Chhichhore and TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, where male engineers often remark on the scarcity of women in their field. Of course, their reasons are more libidinous, but let’s focus on the lack of encouragement for women to join engineering, shall we? And today being the International Women in Engineering Day, there’s no better time to discuss how women engineers have invented, built and designed the world we live in!

Here are some inventions that make our life easier today, which wouldn’t have been possible without some amazing women engineers! Their achievements, in some ways, deserve an extra zing of celebration because in addition to the usual hurdles, some of them would’ve had to overcome gender limitations, juggle home and work responsibilities and in some cases, even fight for their claim.

Flat-Bottomed Brown Paper Bags – Margaret E. Knight

Representational Image

You know those flat-bottomed brown paper bags that are used by shoppers internationally? Well, you’ve got Margaret E. Knight to thank for it. In 1868, Knight, who was working for the Columbia Paper Bag Company in Massachusetts, invented a wooden machine that could fold and glue paper into the shape of the brown paper bags we are now familiar with.

Now, to apply for a patent, she needed to build an iron model of the same machine. However, while it was being built, a worker in the machine shop stole the design and got it patented in his name. Knight then filed a lawsuit and eventually was awarded the patent. Her company Eastern Paper Bag Co. received the royalties for these brown paper bags. As for Margaret E. Knight, she lived a long life, invented other useful things like pliers to remove lids and rotary engine devices.

Foot-Pedal Dustbin – Lillian Gilbreth

Gilbreth is often considered the Mother of Modern Management. You see, while Gilbreth was one of the first female engineers to get a Ph.D., she was also a mother to twelve children. Yes, twelve. And she hated housework, which led her on a constant quest to invent and perfect home appliances that would make her housework easier! Another reason why she devoted her time to female-friendly appliances? Gender discrimination, of course.

Image Source: Flickr

By applying scientific principles to household chores, she tried to make housework easier and swifter for women so they could go finish it and then seek employment outside. Lillian is known for inventing the foot-pedal dustbin we use in our homes, the shelves that you find in refrigerator doors, such as the butter tray and egg crate, and even wall-light switches! Gilbreth even worked for Johnson & Johnson on a product that women cannot live without—sanitary napkins!

Dishwasher – Josephine Cochrane

If you’ve gone through this coronavirus lockdown without even once complaining about doing the dishes, then you’re either superhuman or own a dishwasher. No longer just an appliance found in American homes, even Indian households are slowly recognising the benefits of the dishwasher for those days when the house help does a bunk. As someone who owns one, it is indeed a blessing!

And it comes as no surprise that the inventor of the dishwasher was a woman! In fact, an American housewife by the name Josephine Cochrane. Now I know we’re here to honour women engineers, and Josephine wasn’t one in the literal sense, but she technically did design and help construct the world’s first commercially successful automatic dishwasher, all in her backyard!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

One evening, some of her heirloom chinaware got chipped while washing, which prompted Josephine to look for a better way of washing them. She also wanted to set housewives free from the tedious task of doing truckloads of dishes after a dinner party. Bless that woman, did she anticipate the lockdown too?!

Her dishwasher was the first to use hot water pressure to clean the dishes as opposed to scrubbing. She measured the utensils and created individual racks for dishes, cups, etc, and then got a mechanic named George Butters to help her build it. She showcased her dishwashers at a world fair in Chicago in 1893, generating major interest within the hospitality industry.


Also Read: Aanchal Gangwal Is The Daughter Of A Tea Seller Who Just Got Commissioned Into The Indian Air Force After Topping The Academy. She Is Such An Inspiration


Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum or FHSS – Hedy Lamarr

Now you might need to be a tech whiz or a geek to understand what exactly Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum or FHSS does. But if I were to give you the Wikipedia version of it,

“FHSS is a method of transmitting radio signals by rapidly changing the carrier frequency among many distinct frequencies occupying a large spectral band. The changes are controlled by a code known to both transmitter and receiver. FHSS is used to avoid interference, to prevent eavesdropping, and to enable code-division multiple access (CDMA) communications.”

Basically, the Bluetooth and WiFi technologies we are so dependent on now were developed using some variation of FHSS. And who invented this? An Austrian-American actress and film producer who was also an inventor—Hedy Lamarr.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Fans of old Hollywood movies would know of Hedy Lamarr from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1989 classic Samson and Delilah, in which she played Delilah. She’s even been honoured with her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. While Lamarr had no formal training, she was a curious and inventive person by nature, and would often tinker with little inventions of her own. She dated Howard Hughes and advised him to modify the square-ish design of his airplanes to a more streamlined shape, based on pictures of the fastest birds and fish, to make them faster.

During World War II, Lamarr thought of a frequency-hopping signal that would be difficult to track or jam, compared to radio controllers. She sought her friend, composer and pianist George Antheil’s help to design the FHSS device which synchronised a miniaturised player-piano mechanism with radio signals. They both patented the design in 1947, although their contributions were only formally recognised in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Guidance Scheme For Long-Range Missiles – Tessy Thomas

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Time for a little desi girl pride, ladies! If you’ve been following India’s aeronautics journey, you’re probably familiar with the ‘Missile Woman’ of India, Tessy Thomas. The first woman scientist to head a missile project in India, Thomas was the Project Director for Agni-IV missile at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and is the Director General of Aeronautical Systems.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The long-range guidance system which is employed by all Agni missiles has been designed by Tessy Thomas. She has worked in the aeronautics field for more than three decades.

Also, lets not forget Ada Lovelace, one of the first computer programmers in the world, whose association with Charles Babbage, the Father of Computers, allowed her to work on and publish the first algorithm intended to be used Babbage’s Analytical Machine!

See what women can do, have always been able to do? Even when held back by gender limitations, these women have found a way to engineer and design things that make lives easier across the spectrum. Even today, more and more young girls are being encouraged to pursue engineering, learn coding and broaden their horizons. We’re proud of all these generations of women before us and after us who will continue to engineer a better world with their intuitive insights and skills!

Also Read: Women Are More Likely To Lose Their Jobs During This Pandemic And Will Probably Not Get Rehired Due To Gender Biases. It’s Going To Be Tough For Us


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