In honor of Women’s History Month, SpotHero is taking a look back at just a few of the female innovators that had a profound influence on mobility. SpotHero is grateful for their hard work and contributions, they have truly enabled all of us to get into gear!
Mary Anderson (1866-1953): Inventor of the Windshield Wiper
On a trip to New York in 1902, Anderson noticed the driver of the trolley car she was in could not see out the front windshield due to frost. Without a way to clear it, the driver was forced to either open the windows and lean out of the trolley car, or stop the trolley entirely and clean the windshield off with their hands. Upon returning to her home in Alabama, Anderson set to work and in 1903, patented a hand-operated windshield cleaning device that would allow drivers to safely clear off their windshield while staying in their cars. While the invention received little attention at the time, Anderson is now widely considered the inventor of the earliest version of the windshield wiper, revolutionizing vehicle safety.
Mae Jemison (b. 1956): First African-American Woman in Space
Jemison is a triple threat: a doctor, an engineer, and a NASA astronaut! Inspired by the TV show Star Trek, Jemison had dreamed of going to space since childhood. After several attempts, Jemison was accepted to NASA in 1987. She made headlines in 1992 by becoming the first African-American woman in space when she and her team orbited the earth a total of 127 times on their mission aboard the space shuttle Endeavor. Jemison now works for DARPA on the 100 Year Starship project, to ensure human space travel to another star is possible within the next 100 years.
Emily Post (1872-1960): Advocate for Female Drivers
Post made a name for herself in the early 20th century with her 1922 book on etiquette, “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home,” so it’s a little surprising that this expert on behavior in polite society was an early advocate of women behind the wheel. Before the publication of her book, Post was a journalist. She learned to drive, and declared in print multiple times that it was perfectly respectable for women to drive by themselves or even drive male companions from place to place; a risky stance to take at the time. In 1915, Post took a four week driving trip with her son and cousin, detailing the experience in a series of articles for Colliers, a popular weekly magazine. She went into great detail about her experiences; there are some who regard Post’s exploits as the first recorded example of the modern road trip! Whether or not that’s the case, she helped establish driving as an important part of daily life in the eyes of the public—for women and men.
Emily Warren Roebling (1843-1903): Engineer Who Helped Construct the Brooklyn Bridge
It is hard to imagine the island of Manhattan only being accessible by ferry, but that was the reality before the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, the first suspension bridge onto the island. Roebling’s husband Washington Roebling was lead engineer on the colossal project, but he became bedridden after an illness in 1872. Not wanting him to lose his position, Roebling stepped up to serve as his liaison, overseeing day-to-day construction and helping convey his instructions to the workers. While she had no formal training as an engineer, Roebling quickly impressed the team with her know-how. Roebling served this role until the bridge’s completion more than a decade later. While her husband was still listed as lead engineer at her request, Roebling’s contributions were publicly acknowledged in the Brooklyn Bridge’s opening ceremony in 1883, and she was given the distinct honor of being the first person to cross the bridge.
Mary Seacole (1805-1881): Healer and World Traveler
Seacole is widely credited as the first Nurse Practitioner, most notably for her work in the Crimean War. Born and raised in Jamaica, Seacole was a gifted nurse and “doctress,” traveling widely and administering her services in epidemics and disasters. In 1853, Seacole attempted to join the British army as a nurse to contribute her services to the Crimean war effort, but was turned down due to her lack of formal education and prevailing prejudices. Undeterred, Seacole traveled to the dangerous Crimean front herself and set up the “British Hotel,” a place for wounded soldiers to eat, rest, entertain themselves, and convalesce safely after receiving treatment from Seacole. She gained the respect of soldiers, who personally guarded her and even referred to her as “Mother Seacole.” Seacole documented her world travels and contributions on the front line in her hugely successful autobiography “Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands,” lending credence to the idea that women of all ethnicities were able to administer medicine, run businesses and travel by themselves.
Elizabeth Cochran Seaman (1864-1922): Journalist and Record-Setting World Traveler
Professionally known by her pen name Nellie Bly, Seaman was a fearless investigative journalist. Among her many achievements, Seaman set a record for around-the-world travel. After suggesting to her editor that she attempt a round-the-world trip inspired by the popular novel “Around the World in 80 Days,” in 1889, Seaman set out to prove that it really was possible to make the trip in that time with little more than the clothes on her back. Her trip received worldwide attention and speculation, with her home newspaper The New York World publishing regular updates about her journey along the way. Seaman successfully completed her trip in 72 days, beating the suggested time by more than a week. Seaman would go on to recount her experience in her book, “Around the World in 72 Days.”
Margaret Wu (b. 1950): Revolutionized Synthetic Lubricants to Increase Vehicle Efficiency
Wu transformed the automotive industry from the inside out—literally! After joining Mobil in 1977, Wu discovered a new molecule in the 1980s. Realizing that its simpler structure had potential for her industry, she pioneered the creation of synthetic lubricants with the newly discovered structure for use in automobiles. Wu’s creations resulted in cars that ran with less friction on engine parts, and therefore less waste, and more fuel efficiency. Wu continued to contribute her chemical knowledge to Mobil until her retirement in 2009, earning multiple degrees, over 100 U.S. Patents, and the acclaim of her industry.
Zheng Yi Sao (1775-1844): History’s Most Successful Pirate
Also known as Ching Shih, Zheng is commonly regarded as the most successful pirate in history. Zheng took over her husband’s burgeoning empire when he died unexpectedly in 1807, and under her shrewd and watchful eye her empire grew exponentially. Zheng ruled with a firm but generous hand, instituting rules that considered both the safety and happiness of her crew. She was powerful as well as popular, in fact many groups in the region sought to merge into her fleet. At the height of her power, Zheng commanded over 800 large ships, 1000 smaller vessels and over 70,000 men and women, which she used to successfully defeat the Mandarin navy and force them to join her fleet.
Happy Women’s History Month!