Celebrating 6 Women Who Have Made Our Lives Safer, Warmer, and Brighter

Did you know that when a natural disaster strikes, it’s women who are quicker to take cover or prepare to evacuate.

While everyone of course has the capacity to lead wisely and calmly in tough situations, regardless of gender, sometimes it’s important to celebrate what makes each gender uniquely equipped to handle uncertainty.

Women truly are special, and that’s exactly what International Women’s Day on March 8th is all about. It’s held annually to celebrate women’s achievements throughout history and around the world. 

This year we’re sharing the stories of five remarkable women whose breakthroughs have advanced technology and eased our day-to-day lives, transforming our world into a safer, better place. 

MARY ANDERSON, Inventor of Windshield Wipers 

Can you imagine driving a car in bad weather without windshield wipers? Until Mary Anderson thought of them, that was the only option! 

During a visit to New York City, Anderson noticed that many drivers on the road were sticking their heads outside of the window to see when it was raining and snowing. Knowing that this posed a huge safety hazard, Anderson set out to find a solution to improve visibility on the road. She designed and patented wood and rubber arms that would push rain and snow off the window at the pull of a lever. Sound familiar? 

Although her patent was initially rejected by numerous auto companies, the inclusion of windshield wipers became a standard feature on all cars.

ANNA CONNELLY, Inventor of the Fire Escape

The next time you look at the escape plan for your 16 floor apartment building, you should thank Anna Connelly for a way to get down. After a disastrous fire in 1860, all buildings in New York City were required to provide an escape path inside the building for residents.

However, landlords resisted this idea as it was expensive, resulting in city leaders to back down from the proposed solution. Thankfully, Connelly designed a solution that was not only practical, but also much cheaper: small metal bridges that attach to the outside of city buildings eliminating the need to restructure the walls.

Many types of fire escape designs have been constructed from her initial patent including vertical ladders, chutes, and what is the most widely used building code today: the wrought iron fire escape. Because of her eye for safety, the fire escape is still a predominant feature in many major American cities today.

ALICE H. PARKER, Inventor of the Home Heater 

Isn’t it nice that you can just walk into your home and turn on the heat when you’re cold? With the extreme cold we’ve all faced this year due to the Polar Vortex, we can definitely praise Alice H. Parker for keeping us warm. 

On December 23, 1919, Alice Parker received her patent for her natural gas run central home heating furnace. It featured a multi-burner system that used pipes and air vents to heat the home, all from one centrally located heat source. 

Parker’s invention was revolutionary because it allowed people to keep their houses warm without always having to rely on a wood-burning fireplace. 

Using natural gas allowed homes to be heated much more efficiently and thoroughly. What’s more, her invention included a way for homeowners to regulate temperature room to room, giving birth to the thermostat as well as the heating and cooling systems we use in our homes today! 

MARIA BEASLEY, Inventor of the Life Raft 

Thanks to Maria Beasley, the brains behind the revolutionary life raft redesign back in 1882, the 20 life rafts aboard the Titanic were able to save over 700 passengers.

While she is credited with other notable inventions, Maria Beasley most definitely changed safety standards on the water. Before her invention, most life rafts were flat, wooden boards and not very effective at saving anyone from a sinking ship. So, she set out to make a new raft that was easy to launch, smaller in size, and also fireproof. Amazingly, her design also allowed the raft to fold so it could be easily stored.

While the modern day life raft is far different from her original concept, her idea of including guard rails and making it compatible, is still widely used today

HEDY LAMARR, Inventor of GPS 

Need to navigate when travelling away from a natural disaster? You can be grateful to inventor and actress Hedy Lamarr for that!

Originally from Austria, Lamarr fled Europe to the United States where she pursued acting and starred in films with Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable. However, in between films, this Hollywood queen spent hours at her drafting table putting her ideas on paper, one of which was the technology that laid the foundation for GPS.  

She and her neighbor, a film score producer, invented a “frequency hopping system” that essentially jammed radio signals. Why? After German submarines repeatedly attacked civilian ships in World War II, Lamarr set out to create a technology that would help stop torpedoes. This “frequency hopping system,” coupled with other innovations afterwards, later gave birth to GPS, WiFi, and even Bluetooth. 

In other words, who needs Siri when you got Hedy! Think about her next time you’re able to quickly pull up accurate directions to pretty much anywhere in the world, get on the internet, or talk to someone with wireless headphones!

LETITIA GEER, Inventor of the modern day syringe 

Thanks to modern science and rapid vaccine creation, the end of COVID-19 as we know it is on the horizon. However, one key ingredient needed for vaccine administration locally and globally are syringes - and for that we can thank Letitia Geer. 

In 1899, Letitia Mumford Geer was granted the patent for her syringe idea, which included glass and could be used with one hand. It included a cylinder, nozzle, handle, and a piston rod. Modern day syringes, like the ones helping vaccinate the entire world right now, are still modeled after her original design. 

Today and every day, we honor all women. We are particularly thankful for the innovative women whose inventions have impacted all of our lives with their ingenuity, improving the safety of all people, including our loved ones.

From the harbor team to you, Happy International Women’s Day!