Innovation drives the world forward. It’s why at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we are privileged to honor some of our country’s most important and innovative inventors. While the gender equality in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields is still a work in progress, our female NIHF Inductees are both an example and inspiration to anyone wishing to follow in their footsteps.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we invite you to discover just a few of our many NIHF Inductees whose innovations continue to benefit the lives of people around the world.
Mary Dixon Kies
2006 Inductee Mary Dixon Kies is credited as the first woman to apply for and earn a U.S. patent in her own name. Issued on May 5, 1809, Kies’ patent covered the process for weaving straw with silk or thread — a process primarily used for constructing women’s hats and bonnets. While relatively little is known about her personal life, historians do know that Kies was praised by President James Madison’s wife, Dolly, for aiding New England’s economic situation in the early 1800s while the region was suffering from an embargo on goods imported from Europe. Thanks to her innovation, New England’s hat industry was one of the few industries that prospered during the War of 1812.
2014 NIHF Inductee Hedy Lamarr may be best known as a film star with roles in movies such as “Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) and “Samson and Delilah” (1949), but she also worked with Hollywood composer George Antheil to invent a frequency-hopping technique that reduced the risk of detection or jamming of radio-controlled torpedoes. While Lamarr and Antheil never profited from their invention during their lifetime, in 1997, the Electronic Frontier Foundation acknowledged their work as an important development in wireless communication.
Mary Engle Pennington
As a pioneer in the safe preservation, storage, handling and transportation of perishable foods, 2018 Inductee Mary Engle Pennington’s innovations continue to impact the health and well-being of generations of Americans. Pennington earned her doctorate at the age of 22 in 1895, when such an achievement was inaccessible to many women. She went on to become the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s first female lab chief. Through her career, she also developed standards for the safe processing of chicken and safety procedures to prevent the bacterial contamination of milk.
Stephanie Louise Kwolek
Inducted into NIHF in 1995, Stephanie Louise Kwolek is credited with inventing Kevlar®: a polymer fiber with properties that make it five times stronger than the same weight of steel. Due to its lightweight but incredibly strong properties, Kevlar has become a popular material used in boots for firefighters, spacecraft components, skis, ropes and tennis rackets. However, the most impactful technology enabled by Kevlar remains the lightweight bulletproof vests and body armor that have saved the lives of thousands of law enforcement and armed service members over the past few decades.
2019 Inductee Chieko Asakawa’s invention, the Home Page Reader (HPR), was the first practical voice browser and drastically improved internet accessibility for blind and visually impaired computer users. This innovation gave users the ability to use the internet using a numeric keypad, and translated text, images and graphical elements into words. Asakawa developed the HPR while working at IBM and was named an IBM Fellow in 2009. Throughout her professional career, she has earned more than 20 patents and is considered a pioneer in the development of accessible technology solutions.
Lisa Lindahl, Hinda Miller and Polly Smith
2021 Inductees Lisa Lindahl, Hinda Miller and Polly Smith created the Jogbra®, the first sports bra. Their breakthrough invention removed a crucial barrier to women’s participation in athletics, improved women’s health and launched a global industry. Thanks to the product’s compressing front panel, smooth exterior seams and supportive elastic straps, those who use it could exercise in comfort. Smith, who created the first workable prototype by sewing together two jockstraps, is incredibly proud when she sees women in the gym benefiting from the team’s invention. “When I see women in the gym wearing a sports bra, or women athletes, I’m very proud that I was a part of it,” she said in an interview with NIHF. “It’s thrilling to see.”
Learn More About Our Inductees
To find the stories of more NIHF Inductees, we encourage you to visit our website.
We also invite you to visit our blog to learn more about the importance of promoting greater inclusivity and diverse perspectives in STEM fields.