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Women of Invention

It’s always fun to see the delighted reactions of women when they discover that the Purse Perfector was invented by a woman–not some corporate behemoth’s R&D department. Two weeks ago when we were at the Type-A Parent Conference in Asheville, NC, the bloggers who came up to our expo booth seemed genuinely excited to meet Lyn Marsteller, inventor of the Purse Perfector. Lots of them stopped to talk with her about how she came up with the original idea 10 years ago in her sewing room.

We thought it might be interesting to discover other handy products we know and love that were invented by women, and came across a great little site called Famous Women Inventors. The site features a few of the many women whose ingenuity helped to shape the world as we know it over the last couple of centuries.

Here are some of our favorite things invented by women:

Scotchgard™: This versatile fabric stain repellent and material protector came from the mind of 3M research chemist Patsy Sherman during the 1950s, whose original inspiration came from a lab mishap. “Keep your eyes and mind open, and don’t ignore something that doesn’t come out the way you expect it to,” Sherman said. “Just keep looking at the world with inventor’s eyes!”

Snugli® Carrier: Any parent who’s carried a baby in one of these adjustable baby carriers can thank Ann Moore. As a Peace Corps nurse stationed in Togo, West Africa, during the 1960s, Moore observed mothers walking around with their babies in fabric slings tied securely on their backs. When she came back to the US and had a child of her own, Moore adapted a simple backpack to carry her child close to her like the West African women. Eventually, she and her mother refined the pack and created the original soft baby carrier, the Snugli®, as well as other kinds of specialized carrying cases.

Waterproof diapers: Modern parents may take disposable diapers for granted. But Marion Donovan is the reason our babies can enjoy relatively dry diapers and remain rash-free–and we don’t have to launder endless loads of cloth diapers. In the 1950s, this housewife and mother of two came up with a fully disposable diaper prototype, for which she had to fashion a special type of paper that was not only strong and absorbent, but also conveyed liquid away from the baby’s skin. Incredibly, manufacturers didn’t buy her brilliant invention–and it wasn’t until 1961 that Victor Mills drew upon Donovan’s vision to create Pampers®.

Windshield wipers: The automobile may have been invented by men, but it took a woman to come up with the oh-so-practical windshield wipers. Mary Anderson‘s invention came about during a trip to New York City when the Alabama-born inventor noticed that streetcar drivers had to open the windows of their cars when it rained in order to see. As a solution, in 1903 Anderson patented a swinging arm device with a rubber blade that was operated by the driver from within the vehicle using a lever. It was also a woman inventor who first patented the automatic windshield wiper in 1917 (Charlotte Bridgwood’s “Storm Windshield Cleaner”).

You can learn more about these women and many other female inventors at Famous Women Inventors. Now it’s your turn: What is your favorite product or invention created by a woman?

All products and company names mentioned in this post are trademarks of their respective companies.