Because the overwhelming majority of inventions in the United States have been by men, we need to comment on women's role in the inventing process. Women are equally capable of inventing. So why is it that about 95% of patents granted to Americans have been granted to men? There are several reasons. One is that an inventor's environment dictates the problems a person will identify.When women's environment was confined to the household, their inventiveness was directed toward solving problems that concerned cooking, household chores, and health care. Women did invent in these areas. For instance, a woman began the idea of fabric pressing and other women developed that idea. A "mangle" was patented by Rosa Koenig for flat items such as sheets which were rolled on a smooth stick. Anna Niffeler patented an improvement on a tailor's iron. These irons were called flat irons because the bottom was flat and they were made of iron. At this point, the heat was provided by encased coal. Since these proved too hot, other improvements were patented by women, including a leather knuckle protector by Julie Dittrich. Also, reflecting the fashions of the times, other special-purpose irons were invented. Mary Cook patented a polishing iron for rubbing starched shirt fronts which were popular at the time of her 1848 invention. Ruffles or fluted collars also popular at the time inspired Susan Knox to patent a fluting iron designed to press these. Gertrude Gross patented an early steam iron. Fittingly, it was another woman who freed women from the drudgery of so much ironing. Ruth Benerito and her colleagues at the Department of Agriculture made inventions relating to cotton wash-and-wear clothing (Rowland 188). Secondly, solutions require knowledge of prior technology.Women have traditionally been given little or no opportunities to take classes in technical and scientific education. Due to this, their resources were limited for problem solving. Now that is changing and when women are trained as scientists (and their "environment" is NASA) their contributions are many. For instance, the field of computers owes much to a young woman named, Admiral Grace M. Hopper who invented COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language). As is typical the case, she did this over the objections and negativity of those around her who ³knew² it wouldn¹t work (Hayes). The empowerment of women needs to continue so that they can really be equal in the inventing process. Inventions, of course, benefit all of us. If we deny opportunities to women, we have lost half of humanity's potential inventors. Our society will suffer as well by limiting our number of options or ideas from which to choose. Thirdly, in the past women experienced cultural limitations that perceived women as powerless.Inventing is a form of power. So women were taught that inventing was not appropriate. In fact as late as 1970 a children's book had illustrations showing a little boy working with tools. In another illustration, a girl sits in a chair under a lamp clearly put together by the little boy. The captions read: "Boys invent things." "Girls use what boys invent." With teaching such as this, it is no wonder that women's names were only on 1.5% of patents issued in 1957, about 5% in 1988, and in 1993, about 8%. Even so, women were often the real inventors though their names were not on patents granted. The credit many times went to their husbands, fathers, or brothers in a society that found that acceptable (Rowland 189). Nobel Prize Winner Rosalyn Yalow commented on limiting women inventors: "The world cannot afford the loss of the talents of half of its people if we are to solve the many problems which beset us."
A symbol for getting an idea is usually the light bulb, Thomas Edison's well-known invention. For good reason since Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor who worked hard for forty-four years in his laboratory in New Jersey, thinking up and designing inventions. A look at Thomas Edison's life may inspire others to take time to think and invent, and not to become discouraged, even in the face of handicaps or repeated failures. Thomas Edison was born on February 11, 1847. He was homeschooled by his mother, a teacher. He loved to do experiments in his pre-teen years. Even when he was suppose to be selling newspapers on a train, his job at 12, he took time out to do experiments. Unfortunately, one of these experiments set a traincar on fire! Edison was not deterred by this. In fact nothing seemed to discourage Edison from inventing. Thomas Edison was also deaf. His deafness began around 12 years of age. He blamed it on a conductor who had lifted him up by the ears to get him on a train. Whatever the cause, Thomas claimed it helped him to concentrate so he didn't mind the handicap. Thomas Edison many times worked right through the night on a problem. He believed in hard work. His hard work paid off. He has many inventions to his credit, and he also invented ways to improve upon other's inventions. In his lifetime he received a total of 1,093 patents (Debnam 5E). Edison is most famous for his electric light system. However, others had tried for decades before to invent an efficient lighting system. It was only after hundreds of tries that Edison's persistence succeeded. Some of his first bulbs only burned for a matter of hours. Then when he finally had an effective model, his work was not done. He had to find a way to get electricity to people, or what good did a light bulb do them? Edison invented the first electric power plant. Along with this, he invented much of the equipment necessary to utlize the lightbulb. He invented electrical wiring, fuses, meters and lightbulb sockets. Some of his other inventions include: electric vote recorder phonograph movie studio improvements on the stock market ticker improvements to the telegraph to be faster and clearer transmitter for the Bell telephone to hear better metal parts (previously wooden) for the typewriter so it would be faster He said something that you might want to hang up as a banner on your wall so that you won't be tempted to give up on an idea:
"Genius is 1 percent inspiriation and 99 percent perspiration."
Many African-Americans have contributed important inventions in the history of the United States. Unfortunately, these contributions had to be made without benefit of formal schooling in many cases. Also, a black inventor, even in post Civil-War days, was up against innumerable legal and social obstacles. In light of this background of deprivation, the African-American's success in the field of invention is all the more commendable. In 1870, more than 80% of the African-Americans in the United States were illiterate. Even in the first decade of the 1900's over one-third of the African-American population over ten years old had never been to school. Not only was the lack of education a hindrance, but there were actual legal limitations in the pre-Civil War days. Slaves were not allowed to obtain patents, so many of their masters took credit for the inventions. When the slaves were freed and technically allowed to apply for a patent, many inventions weren't accepted when the race of the inventor became known. Probably the first African-American to obtain a patent (we can't be sure because other registry entries do not contain a reference to race), was Henry Blair of Maryland. On October 14, 1834 he was granted a patent for a corn-planting machine. In 1836 Mr. Blair also received a patent for a cotton-planting device (Ploski 635). Some well-known inventions by African-Americans, Americans still enjoy today: the potato chip of Hyram S. Thomas (a Saratoga Chef); the ice cream of Augustus Jackson, who became known as "the man who invented ice cream" in 1832 (a Philadelphia confectioner); the golf tee of George F. Grant; the mop-holder of Thomas W. Stewart, and the player pianos of J.S. and S. L. Dickinson. Other inventions are more important technologically. They include: the "gas inhalator" (transformed into the gas masks used in WW I) by Garrett A. Morgan, the synchronous multiplex railway telegraph of Granville Woods; the shoe-last machine of Jan Matzeliger; and the automatic lubricator, one of 57 patents received by Elijah McCoy. McCoy's lubrication system continues to be used in large industry today. In fact, it is where the phrase "It's the real McCoy" originates (Ploski 639). These achievements were made in the face of adversity and, therefore, of even greater credit to their inventor.
ESPECIALLY FOR THE YOUNG INVENTORIf you've ever enjoyed a peanut butter sandwich, you can be thankful for an American botanist and chemist named George Washington Carver. It was Mr. Carver who invented peanut butter! George Washington Carver was born in 1864 as a slave in Missouri. When he was still an infant, a band of slave raiders abducted him and his mother. His mother was sold and shipped away, but his master ransomed him back in exchange for a race horse. He started his education in a one-room school house for black children nine miles from where he lived. By the time he was 13 years old, he was already on his own. By working hard on a farm, he managed to obtain a high school education. He then became the first Negro student admitted to Simpson College in Iowa. Mr. Carver worked as the school janitor while attending college. After graduation and going on to receive his master's degree, Booker T. Washington hired him to head the department of agriculture at the TUSKEGEE INSTITUTE in Alabama. He spent the rest of his life at Tuskegee, building up a laboratory and doing research. He helped the whole South's economy because he found that nitrogen- producing legumes, peanuts, and sweet potatoes improved the soil. So the South could have a reason for planting these crops, he developed over 300 by-products and taught farmers how to enrich their soil. There he made numerous discoveries, but refused to patent any of them. He said, "God gave them to me, how can I sell them to someone else?" In 1938 he donated over $30,000 of his savings to the George Washington Carver Foundation and willed the rest of his estate to the same organization so that his work could be furthered even after his death. Mr. Carver died in 1943. His epitaph reads: "He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world" (Ploski 635).
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