In honor of National Inventors Month, SpotHero is taking a look at inventors and innovators whose contributions helped shape the face of modern mobility. May their work inspire many more to improve all of our daily lives, and help everyone get into gear!
Maria Beasley (1836-1913): Inventor of Anti-Derailment Device for Trains
Beasley was a prolific engineer during her lifetime, patenting fifteen different inventions over a twenty year period. As electricity made higher train speeds possible, the safety of trains and passengers became a much higher concern. Beasley patented a device in 1898 that would effectively lock the train to the tracks in the event of possible derailment, saving countless lives. Beasley also created a foot-warmer, a barrel-maker, and made significant improvements to life raft designs for large ships!
Nils Bohlin (1920-2002): Inventor of the Three-Point Seatbelt
When Bohlin joined Volvo in 1958 as a safety engineer, he began looking for ways to better protect drivers in the event of an accident. A year later, Bohlin patented the three-point seatbelt, the first seatbelt to include a strap across the body and the waist. After making this standard issue across all their own vehicles, Volvo decided to make the seatbelt’s design free to other vehicle manufacturers in the interest of public safety. It’s estimated that Bohlin’s invention has saved over a million lives since its inception, and the design was so effective that it is still used today!
Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000): Inventor of Frequency Hopping Transmission Technology
Best known for her prolific film career, in her spare time Lamarr was also a hobby inventor, improving and inventing gadgets and devices for fun. After learning that Ally torpedoes in WWII were easy to disable due to the frequency they operated on, Lamarr partnered with composer and friend George Antheil to create a signal that would hop between frequencies, making them undetectable. In 1942 Lamarr patented her idea, and while her creation would not be used until the 1960s, it would go on to be an important basis of Wi-Fi and would help revolutionize navigation!
Elijah McCoy (1844-1929): Improved Steam Engine Operations
McCoy was a prolific inventor who patented more inventions than any black inventor of the period. His inventions and improvements were so effective, engineers would ask for his inventions by his last name to ensure they got his devices rather than his competitors’. This led to the popular phrase “the real McCoy!” One such advancement was his device to improve steam engine lubrication, which he patented in 1872. His improvements put less strain on the engine parts, and allowed steam engines to run longer, more effectively and go faster! McCoy would continue to refine his invention for the rest of his life, and ultimately his lubrication system was implemented by nearly every railroad in the United States.
Mary Sherman Morgan (1921-2004): Inventor of Advanced Rocket Fuel
Morgan joined North American Aviation in the Rocketdyne division at the end of WWII to produce rocket engines, the only woman out of 900 engineers, and the only person without a college degree. At the time, U.S. rockets often encountered operation issues; they crashed due to insufficient fuel, or even exploded on the launchpad. With the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik, the U.S. urgently sought to make a powerful enough rocket to get their own satellite into orbit. Morgan led the development of Hydyne in 1957, a more powerful fuel to help launch rockets farther and faster during the first phase of flight. Hydyne would be used to successfully launch Explorer 1, America’s first satellite, into orbit in 1958. Morgan’s work was classified for most of her life, but amongst the engineers she worked with, she became known as “The Woman who Saved the U.S. Space Race.”
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662): Inventor of the First Public Bus
Pascal was a mathematician, a physicist, a philosopher, and it turns out, a forward-thinking innovator! One of his most surprising contributions came in 1661, when Pascal created a network of large carriages for public use. The carriages had 20-30 seats and traveled the same route throughout Paris with a fixed price and a regular schedule. While his carriage network had closed by 1675, it is now commonly regarded as the first modern public transit system. His system would even serve as a basis for how to set up public transit systems centuries later!
Shen Kuo (1031-1095): Inventor of the modern compass
A scientist, writer, and philosopher, Shen also has the first recorded example of using a magnetized steel needle to point to true north in the mid 11th century. At the time, the magnetic compass was not considered to be a reliable navigation tool, and larger more cumbersome options were often used instead. Shen posited that his method of floating a magnetized needle in a bowl of water was a more effective method of navigation. It seems he was right; the compass is still used today!
Mary Walton (1827-Unknown): Reduced Train Pollution and Noise
Walton operated a boarding house right across from the elevated train in New York City after the Civil War. Fed up with the dark, poisonous smoke and loud noise that was constantly coming from the railway, Walton decided to try to fix the problem herself. In 1879, Walton patented a device that diverted smokestack pollutants into water tanks instead of into the air. Shortly after, Walton patented a sound dampening system in 1881 to address the loud, near-constant rattling that came from the tracks. Her systems were so effective they were eventually implemented by elevated railroads across the country, making cities cleaner, safer, and quieter.
Happy National Inventors Month!