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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

To the Moon and Back – How Women Inventors are Accelerating the Tech Field

Some of the greatest advancements in human history have started at the root of a humble idea. While some of the most infamous – and important – inventions have yielded significant results, and become prolific in their functionality, it is also important to pay homage to the inventors behind these timeless innovations. The contributions towards humanity of men in the field cannot be overstated, but with countless publicity aimed at these individuals, the contributions of female inventors do not appear to generate the same public recognition. There is an enormous number of female inventors that have and continue to revolutionize the world that we live in. Their contributions are just as important as those of the men in their field, if not more important, in some cases (and vice versa, of course).

The sole purpose of any invention is to make an aspect of life easier, quicker, or more efficient (oftentimes all three). With continuous development and innovation, even the simplest of inventions can phenomenally successful to the point of not only global recognition, but revolutionising the everyday beyond the point of return. Female inventors are responsible for some of the most important inventions on record, including the dishwasher (Josephine Cochrane, 1886), the windshield wiper (Mary Anderson, 1903), the solar heated home (Dr Maria Telkes, 1940s), and stem cell isolation (Ann Tsukamoto, 1991). These are just a handful of the products that have come to be not only helpful to those that use them, but also staples of everyday modern life. In some countries, a dishwasher can make the difference in the overall decision of buying or renting a property. There is not a single vehicle on the market that is not sold with windshield wipers – some even have them on the rear of the vehicle as well. Solar heating is quickly becoming a staple in the modern home. In 1991, Tsukamoto was one of two people who got a patent for her idea, that led to innovations in medicine. While each invention is important and successful– as well as the inventor behind the project – there are some inventions that are important not only in their own success, but the contribution that they offered to humanity.

One way of protecting and ensuring the longevity of invention ideas is to patent them. By patenting ideas, one can make sure that their ideas are protected from being utilised by somebody else. While it may appear like the concept of patenting does not seem necessary, companies and professionals all over the world swear by patenting as a key tactic in ensuring their success. Some ideas are so important in and of themselves that they generate so much interest it is difficult to believe that the idea did not occur to someone else, earlier on. Perhaps expectantly, this is the case for some of the most well-known inventions on the market today. Elizabeth Magie, an independent woman that worked multiple jobs to support herself (quite unusual at the time) created a board game in 1903 called Landlord’s Game, a game aimed at proving moral capacity with two sets of different rules – the anti-monopolist set, and the monopolist set. Magie’s game was largely stolen from her by a man named Darrow, who claimed that he had invented the game. Darrow sold the revised game to game maker Parker Brothers and earning himself a fortune in the process. Alternatively, Magie made what is estimated to be as little as $500 for the original game. Despite her hard work to regain what was rightfully hers, the legal fees ended up costing Magie more than she had even made from her original game. This is a prime example of the importance of protecting ideas in the face of potential (and probable) success. Monopoly is a game that is found in nearly every house today, and yet the true inventor received next to no recognition or financial earnings for it.

In 1960, Margaret Hamilton was a young undergraduate with a degree in mathematics, working towards studying the subject further. One of her many (and arguably her most important) contributions was the code that Hamilton wrote by hand that was responsible for sending man to the moon. When NASA’s Apollo space program was launched, Hamilton was the driving force in engineering Apollo’s command module computer. At the time, it was against the grain for women to work on high-powered technological work, and yet Hamilton persisted and created a product that yielded obvious tangible results. She was part of a team that wrote the code for the first portable computer. The contributions of this one woman towards the mission that literally sent humanity to another world cannot be measured – what Hamilton gave to the world and the field of science is something that paved the way for humanity to understand and really witness what technology can do for humanity and the advancement of our future. With the realisation that these inventions (and the inventors behind the products, for that matter) comes the inevitable understanding that great ideas are born from all kinds of people. Hard work derives from the minds that are determined to bring ideas to life that can change society, the everyday life, and the world. Some of the most successful companies began with a simple invention.

While the contributions of male inventors are obviously key to modern life and are prolific themselves, women are responsible for some of the most important inventions in history. A good idea can evolve to become an essential part of everyday life, from well-loved board games, to house appliances. Female inventors have, and continue to, work hard to bring some of the things that society is so used to having ready access in current everyday life. Although some of these inventions – like the dishwasher, for example – are taken advantage of, it is impossible not to realise the ease that they provide in their very make up. Women as inventors have provided humanity with ease of access.

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