Today in History – March 5, 1991 – The 5 millionth patent is issued for a process turning garbage into fuel by Lonnie O. Ingram, a professor of microbiology at the University of Florida; Tyrell Conway, a former post-doctoral student at the university, and Flavio Alterthum, a visiting professor who is now chairman of the microbiology department at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. See related resources on biofuels and renewable energy.
The first U.S. patent went to Samuel Hopkins on July 31, 1790 for an improvement “in the making Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process.” President George Washington, Attorney General Edmund Randolph, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson signed the patent. Only two other patents were granted that year, one for a new candle-making process and the other the flour-milling machinery of Oliver Evans.
The Engineering Pathway has a number of educational resources on patents and inventors. I’m a big fan of the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA). NCIIA “fosters invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship in higher education as a way of creating innovative, commercially viable, and socially beneficial businesses and employment opportunities in the United States.” The website provides information on faculty and student grant opportunities, conferences and resources.
One question I’ve had is why do we not hear more about patents by women? It turns out that pior to the U.S. Patent Act of 1790, only men could author a patent. Even after the federal law was passed, women couldn’t patent as most states did not allow women to legally own property. For example, there is much speculation that the authorship of the cotton gin patent of 1794 should have included Catherine Greene on the patent, as well as that of the African American slaves who also were not allowed to patent. In fact, it was not until March 3, 1831 that Thomas Jennings became the first African-American to receive a patent for his invention of ‘dry-scouring’, a process better known today as dry-cleaning. See Chad-Eric Montgomery’s March 3rd blog on this event.
Mary Kies’ invention was a process for weaving straw with silk or thread. Alas the patent file was destroyed in the great Patent Office fire in 1836 and an exact copy of the patent is no longer available. Kies invention has been credited for boosting the U.S. hat industry. Even First Lady, Dolley Madison praised her contributions. Until about 1840, most of the other 20 patents issued to women concerned applications that women saw in their everyday work: apparel, tools, cook stoves, and fire places.
As March is Women’s History Month, I highlight some of our other blogs on women’s contributions to engineering, computer science and entrepreneurship.
Patricia Galloway, first female president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), blogs on Elsie Eaves – first female engineer in ASCE to be elected as a full member on March 14, 1927.
Lucy Sanders, CEO of the Center for Women in Information Technology blogs on the unveiling of the ENIAC on February 14, 1946, the world’s first digital electronic computer, as well as on the contributions of women in computing.
Jasmina Vujic, Chair of the Nuclear Engineering Department at the University of California at Berkeley, blogs on Lise Meitner and her groundbreaking publication that first introduced the world to nuclear fission on February 11, 1939.
Chad-Eric Montgommery blogs on two African American women. On March 1, 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first African American woman to receive a medical degree. Also see the blog on Sara Breedlove Walker, the first self-made millionairess hair product inventions for African American women.
Check out Michael Smith blog’s on Josephine Cochrane’s patent for the first commercially successful dishwasher on December 28, 1886.
I enjoyed researching the blog for November 13, 1913 Mary Phelps Jacobs invents modern bra. And also for the one on Dr. Mary Walker, the first female army surgeon to be awarded the Medal of Honor on November 11, 1875. Mary Kies was the first woman to receive a U.S. patnet, on May 5, 1809. My daughter blogs on Florence Rena Sabin as the first woman to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences on April 25, 1925.
Check out the Engineering Pathway‘s many educational resources on women in engineering, women in information technology, women inventors and gender equity. One of my favorite resources is FairerScience, with practical advice on how to develop gender equitable classrooms and practices in math, science and engineering. We also have community groups in engineering diversity and computing diversity.
For a more indepth analysis of the issues associated with gender equity in our faculties and recommended solutions, read our “most commented” resource – the National Academies’ Beyond Bias and Barriers report. My editorial on the report was published in ASEE Prism, November 2006, vol. 16 (3). Obama and McCain Campaigns both commented on the report and other issues concerning women in science and technology during the election. Read a side-by-side comparison here. The first one concerns the recommendations of the Beyond Bias and Barriers report. We’d love to hear your comments and suggestions as well.