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Unsung Women Inventors

Evelyn Berezin

There would be no Microsoft Word, no Google Docs, without Evelyn Berezin. As the only woman in her office in 1951, Berezin was told to “design a computer.” And without having ever seen one before, she did–to great success. In 1969, she founded the Redactron Corporation, a startup on Long Island and the first company dedicated to manufacturing and selling her computerized typewriters. Berezin called her machine the “Data Secretary,” and while it looked pretty different from the computers we know today (it was about the size of a small refrigerator with no screen), it changed the game for secretaries by allowing them to edit, delete, cut and paste text.

Katherine Burr Blodgett

Very few modern inventions would make sense without the work of Katherine Burr Blodgett. In 1938, the physicist and chemist patented her process for “invisible” or non-reflective glass, which is the soapy film that coats picture glass and eyeglasses, as well as retail displays or the glass between you and a school of fish at the aquarium. Over the course of nearly ten years, Blodgett developed a process to block out light glares. She built up uniform, one-molecule-thick films one by one, up to about 3,000 layers at a time, and placed them on top of a solid surface. By doing so, she could precisely control just how much light her films would cancel out, making glass treated with it nearly invisible. Blodgett’s original soap coatings probably aren’t what’s on your glasses or TV screen now (it washed off too easily), but it was the patent that set modern-day durable non-reflective coatings into business.

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner is a name you may not know well, but her inventions are most certainly a part of your life. Kenner came from a family of inventors: her father patented multiple inventions for different trades…, her grandfather invented a light signal for trains, and her sister invented and sold board games. Kenner herself ended up with five patents, still the largest number of patents of any African American woman, though her journey to securing them was less straightforward. The most famous of her inventions was the sanitary belt, which prevented menstrual blood from leaking onto clothing. Kenner first invented it in the 1920s, but couldn’t afford a patent. In 1957, the Sonn-Nap-Pack Company contacted her to market it– but they declined when they found out she was Black. Mary patented the invention that year, but by the 1970s, pads and tampons had overtaken belts in popularity. Mary opened a flower shop, instead, and continued inventing on the side: she’d go on to create a carrier attachment for walkers and wheelchairs,… a toilet paper holder and a mounted back washer and massager.

Mary Sherman Morgan

This inventor’s most famous creation might not ring a bell, but it propelled the U.S. into the Space Age: hydyne. [During WWII] Mary Sherman Morgan…left school to work at a nearby weapons plant. After the war, she was the only woman, and the only person without a college degree, working in the engineering department… She was asked to… invent a rocket fuel to give the Jupiter-C rocket, the U.S.’ bid in the space race, the necessary power to reach orbit. To top it off, since the engine had already been developed without the necessary fuel, she had to retrofit the fuel to the engine—a gargantuan task. But Morgan prevailed, and her hydyne fuel sent Explorer I into orbit on January 31, 1958…

Katsuko Saruhashi

Katusuko Saruhashi developed the first method to measure carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in seawater… She enabled researchers to measure how much CO2 the ocean releases and absorbs, years before those measurements were instrumental to exploring and understanding the climate crisis. Saruhashi entered the world of science at 21, after seeing how many women without professional backgrounds were left struggling financially post-World War II. She developed the first method—and now the global standard—for measuring CO2 using temperature, pH and chlorinity. Saruhashi’s work on ocean climate also led her to be one of the first whistleblowers on nuclear contamination

Carmen Borca-Carrillo is a writer & producer for Wonder Media Network & Womanica, a podcast highlighting fascinating women from throughout history.
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