Bette Nesmith Graham didn’t set out to earn millions: she just needed a way to correct her frequent typing mistakes as a secretary at the Texas Bank & Trust in Dallas in the early 1950s. In the process this single mother invented and patented Liquid Paper, a product that transformed the working lives of millions of typists overnight. Her invention’s effectiveness lies in its simplicity. “Like a safety pin or a rubber band,” she said, “we wonder how we ever got along before without it.”
IT’S THE OLD STORY: A glamorous movie actress and a brash avant-garde composer get together to invent and patent a device that controls torpedoes by radio. Naturally their foray into military-technology innovation affects the way defense satellites are designed in the next half-century.
It pays to be organized.
As a young information specialist with the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in the 1960s, Elizabeth Feinler was arranging an enormous amount of data using 3x5 index cards when she thought, “This work needs a computer.” She teamed up with a programmer to build an early bibliographic system on a time-shared computer.
AS EDITH FLANIGEN EXPLAINS IT, THE STORY OF ZEOLITES dates back to 1756, when a Swedish mineralogist, Axel Fredrik Cronstedt, discovered that a certain type of natural crystal possessed a remarkable quality. When Cronstedt held the stone in a flame, it began to sizzle and froth as water inside the stone came to a boil. He combined two Greek words to name the crystal: zein , meaning “to boil,” and lithos , meaning “stone.”
JOSEPHINE GARIS COCHRANE seemed to have reached the low point of her life one Sunday in about 1880, when she went to church in the midst of an illness and heard the pastor deliver her eulogy. Jasper Douthit, the minister, was undoubtedly rushing things a bit, but then, he had been a reformer on so many fronts for so long that impatience was probably his idea of a positive contribution to any effort. Whatever the intent of his wistful farewell, entitled “Hoping, Waiting and Resting,” Mrs. Cochrane eventually rallied.
OBERLIN, OHIO: Anyone who writes about women inventors must eventually face a stubborn truth: Most of the important things in history were invented by men. Most does not mean all, of course, and several large books have recently been published to catalogue the technological contributions of women. Yet if you listed the 100 most important inventions of all time and the key figures usually associated with each, no more than a small handful would be female.