Inventions by women that everyone should know

Ruth Wakefield

People of all ages love chocolate chip cookies, but did you know they were invented by a woman more than 100 years ago? 

Ruth Wakefield was a dietician and food lecturer. She graduated from the Framington State Normal School in Maine in 1924. She and her husband bought a tourist lodge in Whitman, Mass. and named it the Toll House Inn. In 1930, as Wakefield was making cookies, she found she was out of baker’s chocolate so she substituted Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate morsels. Much to her surprise, she realized that she had inadvertently invented chocolate chip cookies.

Wakefield named her creation Toll House Crunch Cookiesand they became so popular that the recipe was published in a Boston newspaper. A merger took place between Wakefield and Andrew Nestle in which the Nestle Company printed the cookie recipe on packages of chocolate chips. In return, Wakefield received a lifetime supply of Nestle chocolate. Since then, thanks to this creative woman, chocolate chip cookies are among the most popular variety of cookies in America.

Bette Nesmith Graham

As electric typewriters became widespread after World War II, Bette Nesmith Graham and countless other women secretaries were dissatisfied with carbon-film ribbons. They said it was difficult to correct mistakes neatly with a pencil eraser. Graham answered the challenge by inventing the widely used office product, Liquid Paper.

Graham was born in 1924 in Dallas. She dropped out of high school at 17 and went to secretarial school. By 1951, she had earned a top position as an executive secretary for W.W. Overton, board chairman of Texas Bank & Trust. 

Her invention was inspired by watching painters decorating bank windows. She noticed that when they made mistakes they simply covered them up with another layer of paint. Graham attempted the technique using a white, water-based tempera paint to cover up typing errors.

Graham sold her first bottle of Mistake Out in 1956 and began producing and bottling it from her North Dallas home. Her son Michael (a member of the pop music group The Monkees) and his friends helped her fill orders for the new product.

The product was re-named Liquid Paper in 1958. Graham applied for a patent and trademark the same year. Graham’s Liquid Paper Company experienced tremendous growth and by 1987 sales were in excess of one million units per year. Graham sold the company to Gillette Corporation shortly before her death in 1980. 

Betty Harris

In the 1980’s Betty Harris, a chemist in New Mexico worked in in the field of explosives, testing them and finding better ways to identify them in the desert. She invented the sport test, a simple chemical compound that helps identify hidden substances, such as the ones inside explosives. This development has led to much safer conditions in field environments.

These inventions may come from fields that could be expected to habited by just men but history is full of all kinds of women who saw problems and were determined to apply the same kind of courageous innovation of the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison and other geniuses who made America exceptional.

Marie Van Britton

One is the security camera we often see on a building for surveillance and on streetlights in traffic. That was made successfully developed by Marie Van Britton Brown in 1966. A New Yorker from Queens, her husband was an electronics technician. Working regular jobs in a neighborhood where crime rate was on the rise, Marie saw how long police response time took in a crowded city. Using simple equipment like a camera, monitors, microphone and peepholes, she created the basis for the modern security system.

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–Harris Sadiq contributed to this story