Women's Historical Moments–Hail The Unknown Inventors

Women’s History Month is upon us, and this year, we’re highlighting inventions created by women which have been inaccurately attributed to white men. Here are just a few examples from herstory.

The Wheel. Prehistoric women didn’t just invent sewing implements, no ma’am. Archaeological evidence indicates that Cro-Magnon Women actually developed the first wheels. Women found many applications of this circular miracle before Roman men “invented” the wheelbarrow and chariot. A recent dig in Cairo uncovered a small device some archeologists think was a primitive dough flattener or perhaps a precursor of the rose quartz facial roller. 

One of the first wheels functioned as a lazy Susan, a helpful tool given most caves lacked sufficient cupboard space. Of course, 35,000 years later Thomas Jefferson took credit for not only the lazy Susan, but countless other women’s inventions, including macaroni and cheese, which everyone knows was created by moms of picky eaters.

The Printing Press. Yes, Guttenberg and other white men are widely celebrated as the originators of this world-altering device. But, it’s time to recognize the many women of the 1400s who, even though they weren’t supposed to know how to read, copied volumes of their husbands’ work with ink and quills. In the famous words of Marie Von Kuglemorse, an arthritic friend of the Guttenberg family, “If you men ever want another hand job, you best buildeth this machine we damsels doth sketched.”

Unfortunately, women’s dreams of a new age of equality in literature were dashed when the first Bible rolled out, and it became apparent that their edits were overruled by men. Details were overlooked, context was removed, and a mass inclusion of inconsistencies, errors, and misogynistic passages live on today. For example, it was actually Lot, not his wife, who God turned into a block of salt, because, well, Lot was the asshole who offered up his daughters and the two male angels for sexual assault.

The Assembly Line. On a sunny Thanksgiving day in 1913, Henry Ford passed through the kitchen on his way outside to have a smoke and was intrigued by the sight of women preparing dinner and washing dishes. They appeared to be using a strange system of mass production. As he stared at the pile of bowls and pans on the counter, and then at his two cousins adding soap to the washtub, the idea hit him. “One of you should wash the dishes and the other one should dry!” he said, in one of the first documented instances of mansplaining. Although women had not yet invented the gesture of the middle finger, his cousins Bernice and Pearl gave him a look that said the same thing.

Ford went on to “father” the industrial revolution using a technique women had been using since the beginning of civilization. Bernice died of consumption two years after the “discovery,” however Pearl lived long enough to see a Ford Pinto explode, an event she found bittersweet.

Penicillin. Alexander Fleming’s female lab assistant, Helen Fishkins, had been trying to share her thoughts with male colleagues for weeks before Fleming “accidentally” discovered the life-saving antibiotic. “It’s so frustrating,” she wrote in her journal. “I state my analysis in the meetings. They all ignore me, and then one of them pipes up ten minutes later with the exact same idea, like he just thought of it. I’m going crazy!!!”

Alas, Fishkins did spend long periods of time in asylums, the dates coinciding with Fleming’s being knighted and receiving the Nobel Prize.

Glue. Adam and Eve supposedly wore fig leaves. Three guesses which one of them figured out how to make them stay on. Any woman who’s spent time cleaning Log Cabin and bits of napkin off a child’s chin knows that men weren’t the first ones to notice the properties of sticky substances.

History tells us that Dr. Harry Coover invented super glue by “accident” during World War II. It was actually Mrs. Coover, an avid scrapbooker who made her own adhesives combining the standard formula for wallpaper paste with her own secret recipe for rum raisin torte. When an unfortunate spill ended with the family’s golden retriever, Bootsie, stuck to the back of the couch, Mrs. Coover wrote down the ingredients and gave them to her husband. He, of course, has no memory of the incident, other than a vague recollection of Bootsie getting a “ghastly” haircut, which he blamed on his wife.

These are just a few examples of women’s innumerable contributions to the world. As the saying goes, behind every successful man is a woman who did all the work and got zero credit while he got a statue and a wing of a hospital named after him. That’s why it’s important to celebrate these and other achievements all the way to March 31st, when we can go back to celebrating only white men again.

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