Mothers of Invention

From the archives of The River Reporter
Posted 5/5/20

They say that necessity is the mother of invention.

Currently, people are joining forces to get their vulnerable neighbors essential items, making masks that require no sewing, finding ways to …

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Mothers of Invention


They say that necessity is the mother of invention.

Currently, people are joining forces to get their vulnerable neighbors essential items, making masks that require no sewing, finding ways to play games with each other through video chats—just finding ways to carry on as these new needs invade our communities and our personal lives.

As we ponder the adjustments we’ve made in our lives to survive this pandemic, it’s handy to look back on history and see how people solved the needs of their time. May these inventions made or inspired by women of decades past spark your creativity when facing the new set of necessities in your life.

Carpet Sweeper: The once ubiquitous Bissell carpet sweeper was named for its inventor, Anna Bissell. In 1950, when clerical employment outstripped home economics as the leading occupation of women, the pink-collar corps began to invent things that would ease the drudgery of typing and filing.

The Band-Aid: In the early 1900s, the newly married Mrs. Earl Dickson was a fairly inexperienced cook and often cut or burned herself in the kitchen. Earl Dickson worked for Johnson & Johnson Company, which made surgical tape. Dickson was getting so much practice with gauze pads and tape that he invented the Band-Aid so that his wife could bandage herself when he wasn’t around.

Tract Housing: For better or for worse, mass-produced low cost tract housing was the invention of Kate Gleason, who conceived of the first “development” at East Rochester, NY at the end of World War I. By 1921, Gleason was selling $4,000 concrete boxes to young families for a down payment plus $40 a month.

The Gardenia: Jane Colden was the first to identify the flower bush as a species of a new genus. Very much under her father’s control, Colden was not permitted to study Latin or personally answer correspondence addressed to her. Despite those handicaps, she is recognized as one of the first women scientists of the New World.

Pink Champagne: Madame Nicole-Barbe Cicquot revolutionized winemaking by devising a method of clarifying sparkling wine and Champagne. She invented Pink Champagne by pressing the grapes as soon as they were picked.

Coffee Filter: In 1908, Melitta Bentz ripped a sheet of blotting paper from her son’s schoolbook, cut a circle of the porous paper and stuck it in the bottom of a brass pot that she had poked full of holes. By 1912, Melitta was manufacturing its own line of coffee filters.

Artificial Bricks: In 1876, Mary Nolan was awarded patent No. 188.660 for her version of the brick. She invented a building block that, in laying them to form a wall, the blocks would lock together. She indicated that the bricks would be made hollow inside for insulation and ventilating purposes, as well as being fireproof and durable.

Brown Paper Bags: Margaret Knight’s best-known invention is the brown paper bag, or rather the machinery that made the flat-bottomed sack possible. Knight’s 1870 patent for the bag-making machine was successful, and shortly after it was patented, Knight was offered and refused $50,000 for her rights. She died in 1914, leaving a personal estate of only $275.05.

The Kleenex: The Kimberly-Clark Company developed Cellucotton — an absorbent wadding made primarily from wood pulp cellulose and a small amount of cotton to use in hospitals and first aid stations. At the end of World War I, they developed the cloth to remove cold cream and facial makeup.

The Spaghetti Cinch: Dicksie Spolar, of Fontana, California, grew tired to trying to guess the amount of spaghetti to cook—she either made too much or too little. So she invented the spaghetti cinch, a tape measure like device for determining cup servings of cooked spaghetti.

Chocolate Chip Cookies: In 1933, Toll House Inn Restaurateur Ruth Wakefield decided to save a little preparation time in making a batch of chocolate butter drops. She decided to forgo melting chocolate squares into the batter but rather broke the semisweet candy bar into pieces and threw it into the mix.

The Loom: Minerva, goddess of wisdom, is said to have invented spinning and weaving—inventions few anthropologists doubt were the achievement of flesh-and-blood women. Today, weaving still lends our language its metaphors for womanhood: “distaff” and “spinster,” for example.

Liquid Paper: Bette Newsmith Graham developed Liquid Paper because she was a poor typist.  Rather than lose her job, she “cheated” on her typing pool assignments by covering up her mistakes with white paint. By the time of her death in 1980, Graham left a $50 million fortune.

Got a great idea for a new invention you want to share? Send your photos and text to or tell us about it by phoning 845/252-7414, 137. Be sure to leave a call back number.

From the archives of The River Reporter. Mothers of Invention was first published on May 9, 1997 as a centerfold advertising feature.


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