We live in a cushy and convenient world full of big and small innovations that mean we can spend an entire weekend in bed rather than actually doing something with our lives.
But somebody had to make it all possible, and not all great inventors are men in white lab coats hiding behind curtains.
Here are are just a few of the women inventors you can thank for making your life a little easier.
Amalie Auguste Melitta Bentz (January 1873 – June 1950)
Born in Dresden, Germany, Bentz was frustrated by the heavy espresso machines, or percolators, of her day. The heavy equipment was finicky and often left coffee grounds at the bottom of your drink.
In an effort for a smoother, less bitter brew, Bentz took a sheet of thin paper from her son’s school workbook, then set it over a brass pot. To help the coffee drain through, she poked holes in it with a nail.
The Imperial Patent Office granted her a patent in 1908, and she decided to set up a business, the Melitta Company. Her grandchildren control it today, now called The Melitta Group KG, which has more than 50 companies within the enterprise.
Bette Nesmith Graham (March 1924 – May 1980, Dallas, TX)
Bette Nesmith Graham was a secretary from Dallas, Texas, in the early 1950s. Back then, it was difficult to erase mistakes, so typists needed to start all over again if they ever made a typo.
Graham, however, was clever. She instead started using white tempura paint to cover up any typos at work — a secret she thought of from painting holiday windows at her local bank.
She hid this from her bosses for several years, but her coworkers often sought out her workplace hack. She went public with her correction fluid, called “Mistake Out,” in 1956. The name was later changed to Liquid Paper. Graham sold the company in 1979 to the Gillette Corporation for $47.5 million.
Also, her son is Mike Nesmith from the Monkees. We can all thank her for that too.
Marjorie Joyner (October 1896 – December 1994)
Marjorie Joyner was the first African American woman to graduate from America’s first beauty academy, the A.B. Molar Beauty School in Chicago, Illinois. At the time, there were very few methods for black women to smooth or straighten their hair, as was the fashion at the time, so Joyner set out to find a way.
She experimented with paper rods that were commonly used for cooking pot roasts. She figured using the same methods also work for curling or straightening hair — and they actually did.
Her “permanent wave” method became wildly popular with women of all backgrounds and even caught the attention of Madame C.J. Walker, the most famous, African American female entrepreneur of her day. Walker employed Joyner’s beauty methods in her 200 beauty schools, which Joyner also supervised.
Mary Anderson (1866-1953)
Mary Anderson was already a successful real estate developer and rancher in Greene County, Alabama, but her invention is the reason why your winter drives stay safe.
In 1902, Anderson saw a New York City driver having trouble keeping his windshield clear of snow. Touched by his plight, Anderson was inspired to create an automatic windshield wiper blade that could be operated inside the car, keeping drivers safe from the elements.
When she first tried to sell the rights to her patent in 1905, a noted Canadian firm rejected her application saying that they “do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale.” After all, who would need a car? So impractical.
Cadillac adopted the use of windshield wipers in 1922 — a full two years after her patent expired. Anderson never made any money off her invention.
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (May 1912 – January 2006)
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, along with her sister, was a wizard of making your trip to the bathroom as pleasant as possible.
She invented both a sanitary belt in 1956 and a bathroom tissue holder in 1982 (among other hygienic inventions). The sanitary belt gave women a better alternative for handling their periods, even if it wasn’t as comfortable as our modern Kotex with wings. It was patented 30 years after she invented it, because the company who was initially interested in her creation rejected it when they learned that Kenner was African American.
Back in Kenner’s day, tampons were available to women, but they were discouraged from using them because it was considered “indecent.” Another alternative was to use a cloth or rag, but this method was often unsanitary and inconvenient. Women and girls who opted for cloth usually needed to stay indoors during their time of the month. Sanitary belts were not only more practical, they were more liberating. It wasn’t until the 1960s that maxi pads became more readily available.
As for the bathroom tissue holder, Kenner’s design was an improved version of the common holder that allowed the loose end of a bathroom tissue roll to be accessible at all times.
Kenner’s prolific creations also include a mountable back washer and a carrier attachment for an invalid walker.