Throughout history, women have played a part in some of the most innovative research and inventions, many of which were the precursors of products and ideas we use today. Here is a list of ten world’s famous female inventors who bucked the system, making important strides in technology, health, and even our leisure time.
Table of Contents
Famous Female Inventors
For many of these women, their ideas were rejected initially because they were women in a time when their gender was expected to stay home, stay quiet, and raise the children.
1. Marie Curie
This Polish and French chemist/physicist was the first female Nobel Prize winner after her groundbreaking research on radioactivity. Discovering atom-splitting, polonium, and radium, Marie was the first to use the term “radioactivity.”
Marie endured rejection after her receiving her 1893 degree in physics and a second degree in 1894. She was turned down by Krakow University, where she had hoped to teach and conduct research because she was a woman.
One of her greatest achievements was discovering that cancerous tumors, when exposed to radiation, were killed off much faster than healthy cells; this is, of course, the foundations of chemotherapy.
Marie’s X-Ray machines would be taken onto the battlefield during World War 1; many wounded soldiers were able to receive life-saving operations much sooner because of her. On July 4, 1934, Marie Curie died from aplastic anemia, most likely due to her constant exposure to radiation. She remains one of the most influential and famous female innovators of all time.
2. Valentina Tereshkova
This Soviet powerhouse was the first female to have ever flown in space. Chosen from 400 applicants, Valentina was also the first civilian to fly in space. To join the Soviet’s cosmonaut program, she needed first to be inducted into the Soviet air force. She is the only woman to have ever flown solo in space, making her record-breaking launch on June 16, 1963.
Valentina endured rigorous training, both physically and mentally. The former textile worker studied rocket theory, isolation tests, spacecraft engineering, pilot training, weightless flights, and centrifuge tests. She orbited the earth for three days, going around 48 times.
Much of her time in the capsule was spent in physical discomfort; Valentina later said she felt nauseous throughout the entire journey. Valentina would go on to have a successful political career following her historic flight.
3. Ann Kiessling
A leader in human parthenogenic stem cell research for the Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation. Many of the great strides in this science were made by another influential female; Ann Tsukamoto invented the way to isolate a single stem cell.
Ann Kiessling made many important discoveries in reproductive health and HIV; her research has allowed many HIV+ parents to have healthy babies unaffected by the disease. She also pinpointed new ways the virus is transmitted. One of the best female innovators, her research into stem cell research and HIV has already and will continue to, save many lives.
4. Ada Lovelace
The only legitimate child of the author and poet Lord Byron, Ada is best known for working on the earliest computer prototype, called the Difference Engine. This mathematician is responsible for the first algorithm ever given to a computer; in effect, she is the first computer programmer.
While Charles Babbage invented the Difference Engine in the 1840’s, it was Ada who saw beyond its potential for mathematical calculations.
She and Babbage would begin designing an upgrade to the Difference Machine, which would have been called The Analytical Machine and would have been the precursor for the first computer. While this machine was never finished, her notes included an algorithm that would have worked, making Ada the first computer programmer.
5. Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper led groundbreaking research which would result in the first computer, the Harvard Mock I. This room-sized, the five-ton machine was invented in 1944. The terms “debugged” or “debugging” were also invented by Grace when she had to remove moths from the machine.
Her research led to the development of computer language and code. Prior to her work, computers were only used for mathematical equations. Without her research and tenacity, the computer you are using to read this list of best female innovators wouldn’t exist. Grace Hopper is more than just one of the greatest female innovators; she was also a rear admiral in the United States Navy.
6. Maria Telkes
Maria Telkes most famously invented the first thermoelectric generator for a house she built with the fellow influential female, architect Eleanor Raymond in 1947. The Dover Sun House, in Massachusetts USA, was the first to feature a solar generator, providing 100% of the heat to the home.
Maria, one of the greatest female innovators of the 20th century, also invented the thermonuclear refrigerator and a desalination solar-powered portable still for sailors who became stranded while at sea. Maria has been nicknamed “The Sun Queen” due to her breakthrough work in the field of solar energy.
7. Patsy O’Connell Sherman
This American chemist invented Scotchguard, the 3M product that repels water and blocks stains. Patsy took an aptitude test while in high school during the 1940s; the test suggested that she, like most women of her time, would be most suited as a housewife.
Outraged, she demanded to be allowed to take the male version of the aptitude test. The results of that test were different, suggesting that her career path would be best pursued in science or dentistry.
She was one of a very few females in the 1950’s that were chemists; she was not even permitted into the textile mill where the experimentation of her invention was being carried out.
While she is one of the famous female innovators of this century, her discovery was an accident; she spilled fluorochemical rubber on a coworker’s shoe and was unable to remove the stain.
This led her to the realization that the polymer would be an effective stain repellent. She and her co-inventor Samuel Smith hold 13 patents for polymerization processes and fluorochemical polymers.
8. Stephanie Kwolek
Many law enforcement officers owe their lives to the American chemist, Stephanie Kwolek. While researching at DuPont, Kwolek was looking for a lightweight but strong type of fiber that could be used in tires.
When the result of an experiment was a milky, crystalline substance, she decided to test it rather than throwing it away as she normally would. To everyone’s surprise, the substance was strong; Kevlar is, in fact, five times stronger than steel.
Kevlar is used for rope, parachute cords, cables, skis, and over 200 other applications. By far, however, Kevlar’s most life-saving application is for bullet-proof vests, worn by law enforcement and soldiers across the globe.
9. Elizabeth Magie
Originally called The Landlord’s Game, Monopoly was created by Elizabeth Magie. The game was patented in 1903 and was a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the effects of land monopolism. Her game illustrated economist Henry George’s teachings.
Elizabeth Magie was one of the best female innovators of the game industry, inventing three total versions of The Landlord’s Game as well as several other board games like Mock Trail, The King’s Men and Bargain Day.
While she had multiple patents to cover her board game, Parker Brothers would reinvent it into Monopoly, and her role in the invention of the game was not discovered until another board game inventor, suing Parker Brothers over his own invention called Anti-Monopoly, uncovered her patents while preparing for the case.
10. Nancy Johnson
Nancy Johnson invented the sweetest machine of all; the hand-cranked ice cream maker. Without her invention, we couldn’t enjoy our favorite dessert; delicious, creamy ice cream.
In 1843, Nancy applied for a patent for her ice cream maker. The machine froze the ice cream at the time of mixing it, making ice cream possible in a time before there were freezers.
Shortly after patenting her invention, she sold the patent to a businessman named William Young, who would produce the machine as the “Johnson Patent Ice-Cream Freezer.”
These are only a sample of some of the best female innovators of all time. Women have made great strides in experimentation, invention, research, and discovery. Still, from the invention of the computer to the creation of a tasty treat, these women all deserve to be listed among the top ten.