What Do Beer, Kevlar Vests and WiFi Have In Common?

Windshield wipers. The dishwasher. Flat-bottomed paper bags. Ice cream makers. The medical syringe. Central heating. The circular saw.

What do all of these things have in common – besides being a list of incredibly useful innovations?

They were all invented by women.

I know. Queue the astonishment.

Ask any middle-schooler to tell you who invented the light bulb, and they will likely answer Thomas Edison in one adolescent eye-roll. But ask them who invented the life raft, or Kevlar, or the modern electric refrigerator, and you will almost certainly receive blank stares. (Answers: Maria Beasley, Stephanie Kwolek and Florence Parpart, respectively.)

Why is it we don’t know who’s behind some of the most critical innovations of the last century? Is it because their stories aren’t that interesting? Highly unlikely. Take Hedy Lamarr for example. Hedy was a Jewish Austrian-American actress who starred in numerous Hollywood films from the 1930s to the 1950s. She also happened to be an inventor, who came up with an improved traffic stoplight before inventing a “frequency-hopping, spread-spectrum technology” that is the base design for what we now know as WiFi and Bluetooth. Not exactly your standard side-hustle, if you know what I mean. 

                                                                            Hedy Lamarr: Hollywood actress, pinup girl, and... inventor of Wifi

No – a more likely (and disappointing) answer is because generally speaking, women have long been ignored in the fields of science, technology and innovation, despite their incredible contributions. As we acknowledged in this post on International Women's Day, we've got a long way to go to bridge the gender divide. The question remains, how do we -- Lenovo -- recruit more of these badass women to apply their knowledge and innovative spirits to the tech space?

We don't have the answer. If we did, the gender gap probably wouldn't exist. What we do have is a passion for pioneering, creative energy for days and a steadfast desire to figure it out. So over the course of Women's History Month, we used that trifecta to literally build something - a physical reminder that women's contributions are everywhere, and deserve recognition. We took objects representing women's inventions over the last 200 or so years – things like a Monopoly board, windshield wipers, medical syringes, and beer bottles – and we painted them in bold hues. We then arranged them in a sculpture that, if viewed from the side, appears to be layer upon layer of random hanging objects on strings. However, from the front perspective, when viewed head-on, reveals a woman’s profile. We surprised even ourselves. It's truly a show-stopper.

   

This sculpture sits in the lobby of our North Carolina headquarters. A space Lenovo customers, potential new hires, and current employees pass through day in and day out. It’s meant to serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come – and a symbol of our brand’s commitment to reach gender equality in technology and innovation once and for all.  Like we often say, Different is Better, and we're all better together.

 

Learn more about each of the innovators honored in our sculpture, here:

  • Ruth Graves Wakefield was the brainchild behind the Toll House Cookie in 1938 – the first chocolate chip cookie ever? We have a LOT to thank her for – including increased waistlines.
  • The beloved beverage that is almost exclusively marketed to men? You can thank women for it. Nearly 7,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia, beer was a gift from a goddess; men weren't allowed to brew it, or even operate taverns that served it. Remember that the next time you pop bottles.
  • Mary Anderson, a real estate developer from Alabama, solved a legitimate problem for drivers everywhere: driving a car in the rain was a death sentence. So like any good pioneer, she invented - and patented - the very first windshield wiper blade.
  • Adeline Whitney always had a way with words. In addition to her invention of the iconic alphabet blocks, Whitney was an acclaimed writer who published more than 20 books for girls. 
  • Marie Van Brittan Brown didn't like how long it took the police to respond, so she decided to do something about it. She invented closed circuit television. At first it was used domestically, but since it was so effective, many businesses adopted her system.
  • We can all thank Alice Parker for making cold nights a little warmer. She designed the gas heating furnace which would help provide central heating in millions of homes and bulidings around the world today. Wither her invention, people no longer needed to stock and burn wood in a traditional furnace, which was also a major fire risk. And on the plus side, no one ever has to spend time chopping wood.
  • Sarah "Tabitha" Babbitt must have believed in working smarter, not harder. After watching men use the difficult two-man whipsaw, Babbitt noticed that half of their motion was being wasted. That's when she realized a round blade would be a lot more efficient. There are quite a few lumberjacks out there that owe Sarah a big "thank you."
  • Did you know the first computer programmer was a woman? Ada Lovelace is known for creating the world's first computer algorithm. Her work was on a mechanical general-purpose computer called the Analytical Engine. She discovered the machine could do more than rudimentary calculations and created an algorithm for the machine to compute.
  • The chore of doing the dishes has become less of a chore thanks to Josephine Cochrane. After receiving her patent for the first dishwasher, she showed it at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and won the highest prize for "best mechanical construction, durability, and adaptation to its line of work." Too bad someone still has to put the dishes away...
  • After being betrayed by a colleague, Margaret "Mattie" Knight had to fight to win the rights to her invention of the flat-bottomed paper bag machine. But that would not be her only invention in her long life. By the time of her death, she had 27 patents under her belt and was reportedly working 20 hours a day on what would have been her 89th invention. It seems Mattie may be the one woman who had more hours in the day than Beyoncé.
  • Lillie Moller Gilbreth is a woman of many talents. In addition to inventing the foot pedal trash can, she is credited with writing many books, including the popular Cheaper by the Dozen which has been made into multiple films. Gilbreth was an engineer and is known to be the first industrial psychologist; something that must have been very difficult given the harsh working conditions in the factories during that time. 
  • Thanks to Ellen Fitz, we have more evidence that the Earth is not flat. She invented the terrestrial globe mount that illustrated the path of the sun and the various durations of day, night and twilight around the globe throughout the year.
  • Nancy Johnson is credited for inventing the ice cream freezing machine back in 1843. However, Johnson quickly sold off the patent at a very low price, and the purchaser of that patent made a quick fortune from Johnson's invention. Maybe this is where the phrase 'You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream' comes from? 
  • Stephanie Kwolek made quite a career at the Dupont company. During her tenure, she had a bulletproof idea and created Kevlar. For her discovery, Kwolek was awarded the DuPont company's Lavoisier Medal - being the only woman recipient as of February 2015 - and she became the fourth woman to be added to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
  • Modern medicine can thank a woman for inventing the medical syringe we all know today. Before Letitia Mumford Geer's invention, two hands were needed to operate a syringe. 
  • When it was first conceived, Monopoly was known as The Landlord's Game, with the goal to show the ill effects of land monopolism and the use of land tax to remedy them. The game was popular among Elizabeth Magie's friends, which caused her to seek a patent. We all know what happened from there! Pass go and collect 200 dollars.
  • Ever wonder what to call that little white plastic 'table' in the center of your pizza box. It's called a 'Pizza Saver' and it was created by Carmela Vitale, who clearly prefers cheesy slices over cheesy cardboard, like all respectable pizza-obsessed humans.
  • Catherine Deiner didn't invent the first-ever rolling pin, but she did put her own positive spin on it. Her version had an adjustable sleeve, which made it super easy to cut up dough into cakes without any waste.
  • Being a daughter of an inventor, Lily Born is used to solving problems creatively. So after seeing her grandfather, who suffers from Parkinson's, constantly spill his drink, she decided to do something about it. That's when the Kangaroo Cup was born. It's a multi-handled cup that improves stability, and she did it all at 11 years old. This kid doesn't play around.
  • Dr. Shirley Jackson has helped the scientific community in a myriad of ways. During her time at Bell Laboratories, Dr. Jackson conducted breakthrough basic scientific research that led to the invention of the portable fax, the touch-tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting.
  • Hedy Lamarr had no formal training and was primarily self-taught. But that didn't stop her from helping create one of our most favorite things ever, WiFi. During World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil realized radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be jammed. Using that knowledge, the two drafted designs for a new frequency-hopping, spread-spectrum technology. This design is one of the most important elements in wireless technologies we use today. 

 

Sarah O'Grady manages Global Brand and Culture Content for Lenovo.