One of the things I like to do before heading out to present the Connecticut Invents program is to check the museum’s Connecticut Patent Database. I like to see what inventions have come from the towns I’ll be presenting in and then talk about them with the kids. I did this before going to Monroe the other day and discovered that one inventor granted a patent for a Dust-Pan was Annie Maria H. Moss. Awesome, I thought. This fits right in with something I like to talk about in the program: Anyone Can Invent!
Often the inventors we hear most about are men. Think about it. Sam Colt, Eli Whitney, Igor Sikorski, Charles Goodyear, the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, etc. During the program we obviously talk about these guys with kids. After this I ask the kids two questions 1. ” since all these inventors are men, does that mean that women can’t invent?”2. “can anyone name me any famous women inventors or what they invented?” The answer to the first question is a resounding anyone can invent; men, women and of course kids. The answer to the second is usually silence. I’ve yet to have one kid name me a woman inventor or invention! (And my programs are generally about a 50/50 mix of boys and girls.)
So, for some reason the contributions of women inventors isn’t getting taught to our kids. That’s sad. I don’t claim to be an expert in this topic but a quick look around the internet and at some invention books gives one a basic understanding of the contributions of women inventors through the years. Examples I point out to kids in the program include Margaret Knight who was granted 26 patents in her lifetime including one for a machine that automatically folds and glues paper bags to create a square bottom. Today’s grocery bag. Then there is Bette Graham who invented the formula for Liquid Paper in her kitchen and later sold it for 47 million dollars. And of course Stephanie Kwolek, a chemist, who invented Kevlar which is used in a number of products including the body armor that protect our soldiers and police officers.
Women inventors from Connecticut include Marien Kies who was the first woman in the United States granted a patent in 1809. She invented a process for weaving straw hats using silk. Between 1800-1890 44 Connecticut women were granted patents for a number of products including sleigh bells, food preservers, corsets, stove polish, a surgical knife and a knitting machine. A modern invention from a Connecticut woman is the Wetbone for dogs which was co-invented by Sue Tyska of Manchester. Sue kindly donated a couple of these to the museum for me to use in my programs. Kids love the Wetbone; it’s fun, creative and encourages them to think “out of the box” so to speak. It gets their inventive juices flowing.
Today hundreds of thousands of women apply for and are granted patents for their inventions. Let’s hope these creative women get the recognition they deserve as inventors…..