Brains and Brilliance: Women Inventors Who Revolutionized Our Homes

a woman sits at her home office desk

When you think about your home, it might be hard to imagine it without some of the most essential items – the electric refrigerator, your dishwasher, even your coffee filter. What you may not know is that many of these items were invented by women. In honor of Women’s History Month, here’s a list of women inventors who fundamentally changed our homes with their brains and brilliance.

Marie Van Brittan Brown – the Home Security System

a homeowner pressing the numbers on a wall security system console
The security system was created by a nurse and inventor.

During the 1960s, Brown worked odd hours as a nurse and with her electrician husband, decided to create a system that would help to keep their home and family safe. Their system began with three peepholes that would allow the family to see who was at the door.

Eventually, the Browns’ home security system came to include two-way voice communication, video monitoring, remote-controlled door locks, push-button alarm triggers, and more. The device became the foundation on which the modern home security system was built.

Hedy Lamarr – Wireless Transmission Technology

 the four bars of cell service and  the W-Fi signal are in neon green on a black background
The foundations for Wi-Fi date back to 1930s with inventor (and actress) Hedy Lemarr.

Though best known for her acting talents, Lamarr immigrated to the United States in the 1930s and eventually worked with fellow inventor George Antheil to develop spread-spectrum technology or wireless transmission tech. This invention is used today in Bluetooth and led to the creation of Wi-Fi. If you’re reading this on your smartphone or your home computer, you have Ms. Lamarr to thank.

Anna Connelly – the Fire Escape

A fire escape gives people an emergency exit during fires
Countless lives have Anna Connelly to thank.

As the NFPA asserts, “Get out, stay out.” Every homeowner needs a plan in case of a home fire. Today, many plans include the use of a fire escape, which would not have been possible without Anna Connolly’s idea for the first steel exterior staircase in 1887. Since then, fire escapes have saved countless lives, including firefighters who have used her invention to battle fires.

A trailblazer in more ways than one, Connelly was also one of the first women to submit an idea to the U.S. patent office.

Patricia Billings – Geobond

Keeping with the fire safety theme, Geobond was invented by Patricia Billings, a sculptor who wanted to prevent her works of art from shattering. Billings originally sought to create an additive to cement, but in the 1970s, she ended up creating a non-toxic, fire-proof, indestructible material that is used in building today.

Melitta Bentz – the Coffee Filter

A fire escape gives people an emergency exit during fires
Melitta coffee filters might be in your cabinet!

One of the world’s most incredible inventions – according to our digital content manager – is Melitta Bentz’s coffee filter. Unsatisfied by grounds in her drink and hard-to-clean linen bag filters, Bentz worked to create a paper filter in the early 1900s. Her product is still in use today, so avid coffee drinkers, check to see if you have Melitta filters in your cabinets. (Our manager does!)

Sarah E. Goode – the Cabinet-Bed

Today’s homeowners know the successors to Goode’s cabinet-bed as the Murphy Bed and pull-out sofa. However, Goode’s invention started as a desk that morphed into a bed to save space in smaller living spaces. Born into slavery, Goode was ever the pioneer. She became an inventor, a store owner, and was one of the first Black women to register a patent in the United States.

Nancy Johnson – the Ice Cream Maker

three bowls of chocolate chip ice cream sit on a table
Ice cream is ubiquitous thanks to Nancy Johnson.

I scream. You scream. We all scream for Nancy Johnson, the inventor of the ice cream maker. Johnson disrupted the ice cream process with her hand-cranked ice cream churn that streamlined and standardized ice cream making. Thanks to Johnson’s fast and efficient appliance, ice cream catapulted into a global dessert phenomenon and became a staple in your freezer.

Lillian Gilbreth – The Foot Pedal Trash Can

Dr. Gilbreth paved the way for women in many areas. She was the first woman to speak at a University of California commencement. She was one of the first female engineers to earn a Ph.D. Her studies in psychology and scientific management and engineering led to the invention – or tweaking – of many household items.

Dr. Gilbreth was best known for shelves in refrigerators, easier-to-use can openers, and of course, the foot pedal trash can. Dr. Gilbreath and her family were also the inspiration for the book (and movies) Cheaper by the Dozen.

Josephine Cochran – the Mechanical Dishwasher

close up on a dishwasher rack with utensils
“If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself.”

Born into a family of inventors – her grandfather invented the first patented steamboat in the U.S. – Cochran was a socialite who used expensive china at dinner parties. She washed dishes by hand to prevent cracks.

Cochran sought a mechanical solution to prolong the life of her dishes. She is said to have yelled, “If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself.” With the help of a mechanic, Cochran invented a dishwasher that used water pressure to wash dishes. (And of course, it didn’t crack them!)

Florence Parpart – The Electrical Refrigerator

an open refrigerator showing the food inside
The electrical refrigerator is essential to modern living.

You only need a few hours without your refrigerator to realize what an impact Parpart had on our home lives. She and her electrician husband created an attachment that circulated water through the “icebox” to keep it – and food – cold. Parpart’s genius extended beyond the kitchen as she also helped to improve upon the street-cleaning machine.

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