Women in Manufacturing Thoughout History

Throughout history, women have made many contributions to manufacturing and technology that more often than not go unacknowledged. There are countless inventions by women that have innovated technology and are still in use today. Some of these inventions have even saved lives. In honor of Women’s History Month, this week we decided to highlight a few of the women who have made a lasting impact in the manufacturing industry.


Margaret E. Knight; “Lady Edison,” Invented Flat Bottom Bags and Machine Safety Device.


Margaret E. Knight (1838-1914) is widely known as the “Lady Edison”. Her first invention was a device that automatically stops a machine if something gets caught in it. This idea came to her after witnessing an accident at a textile mill when she was only twelve years old. Devices similar to this one are still in use today and have prevented countless accidents. Her most famous invention is the flat bottomed paper bag. While working in a paper bag factory, she decided it would be much easier to pack the bags if they had flat bottoms; so she created a machine that would manufacture flat bottomed bags. Variations of this machine are still used throughout paper bag manufacturing plants today. Margaret received over twenty patents in her lifetime and is credited with over 100 inventions.


Mary Anderson; Invented Windshield Wipers.


Mary Anderson (1866-1953) is the person to thank whenever you are driving in any type of inclement weather. She invented the windshield wiper. The idea came to her when she noticed a man who kept his window rolled down in freezing temperatures so he could continually reach his arm out to wipe his windshield off during a snowstorm. She received the patent for this idea in 1903 but every company she tried to sell it to turned her down. It wasn’t until about half a century later when automobiles were more widely owned that automobile manufacturers realized the need for such an invention. By this time her patent had already ran out.


Sarah Breedlove; First American Self-made Female Millionaire, Hair Products.


Sarah Breedlove (1867-1919) was America’s first self made female millionaire. She invented a specialized hair product for African Americans after she fell victim to hair loss due to a scalp ailment. Not only did she invent the product, she also marketed it and started the company, Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories, that manufactured it as well. She also trained women to work in sales and to work as cosmetologists. So, not only did she make her fortune through developing her own manufacturing company, she also made sure other women had the opportunity to learn and better their own lives as well.


Edith Clarke; First Female Professor of Electrical Engineering.


Edith Clarke (1883-1959) is the first woman to ever graduate from MIT with a Master’s in Electrical Engineering. She went on to be the first woman to ever be a Professor of Electrical Engineering in the United States of America. She was also the first woman to ever present a paper to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. This paper was of utmost importance at the time because it found a solution to the growing issue of power lines becoming longer. She also wrote an Electrical Engineering textbook that was used at universities throughout America and invented a specialized graphical calculator that assisted in solving electric power transmission line problems.


Hedy Lamarr; Invented Spread Spectrum Technology.

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) is very well known as being a Hollywood starlet; however, what most people don’t know about her is that she is to thank for wi-fi. During World War II, Hedy helped develop a “secret communications system” that developed an unbreakable code to send and receive messages. This invention was later used during Cuban Missile Crisis. The full significance of her invention was not realized until recently; the spread spectrum technology is the basis for cell phones, fax machines, and wireless internet.


Marie Van Brittan Brown; Invented the Home Security System.

Marie Van Britten Brown

Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922-1999) is the person to thank for your security system, whether it’s for your house or the surveillance system at your company. Marie was a nurse in Queens, New York and consequently worked late hours. There was a spike in crime in her neighborhood so she decided to take action. The security system she developed included cameras, two-way communication, remote lock doors, and an alarm button that would alert the police. After the patent was filed in 1969, this became the standard security system in homes throughout America.


Stephanie Kwolek; Invented Kevlar.


Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014) is the person responsible for an invention that is used globally and has possibly saved millions of lives, kevlar. Stephanie was a chemist for DuPont Company when she was asked to develop a new generation of fibers that could handle extreme conditions. Through this, she developed kevlar. Stephanie also held over seventeen other patents and wrote numerous papers that contributed to the fiber manufacturing industry.

Hopefully you found these women as inspirational as we did!  It is important to remember that manufacturing is not an industry just for men.  The number of women in the manufacturing workforce continues to grow everyday; over 30% of manufacturing workers are women.


We would now like to take the time to acknowledge the winner of our 2017 Outstanding Woman in Manufacturing Award, Mary Myers, Manager of Operations at PBE Group in North Tazewell, Virginia.

Judges said, “To be able to work her way through production into management and continue to be a positive example in the midst of a company purchase is very inspirational.” “It is obvious that she has gained the recognition and respect of not only management, but her co-workers. She is not afraid to voice her opinion for the good of the company. Even though she is a Manager, she is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to get a job done with her team.”

The finalists for this year’s award are (in no particular order):
Trixy Surber, Scholle IPN Packaging
Angie Barr, Strongwell
Julie Fuller, Tadano Mantis Corporation
Stacy Street, Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co., Glade Spring
Tina Clevinger, West River Conveyors

Congratulations to our winner and finalists!