20 things you didn't know were invented by women

  • You might not know that some things you use every day were invented by women.

  • Nancy Johnson created the first hand-cranked ice-cream maker in 1843.

  • Famous American chef Julia Child developed a shark repellent while working as a CIA assistant.

You might not know that everyday items like the dishwasher and the first version of the Monopoly board game were all created by women.

In honor of International Women's Day, Business Insider looked back at some of the most famous inventions made by women throughout history. Some, like the chocolate chip cookie, were invented by accident. Others, however, were worked on for years before they gained international acclaim.

Here are 20 things you didn't know were invented by women.

Glass aquariums were invented by Jeanne Villepreux-Power in 1832.

georgia aquarium
Aquarium.Prince Williams/Getty Images

Villepreux-Power, a naturalist and marine biologist, invented the first glass aquarium in order to aid in her study of aquatic organisms, according to Britannica.

The invention allowed her to determine that Argonauta argo, a species of octopus, produce their own shells rather than obtain them from other animals as hermit crabs do.

Villepreux-Power's invention of a glass aquarium has proven invaluable to scientists for over a century.

In 1843, Nancy Johnson created the first hand-cranked ice-cream maker.

strawberry ice cream inside the drum of an ice cream maker being scooped out.
Strawberry ice cream in ice-cream maker.vm2002/Getty Images

Johnson's ice-cream maker was made up of an outer wooden pail, an inner tin cylinder, and a paddle connected to a crank. To make ice cream, you had to fill the outer pail with crushed ice, fill the inner cylinder with ice cream mix, and manually crank a handle to churn the mixture while the ice cooled and set the ice cream.

Her patent was approved on September 9, 1843, almost 100 years before freezers, as we know them today, were invented.

The modern ironing board was invented by Sarah Boone, a 19th-century African American dressmaker.

An iron sitting on an ironing board against a backdrop of floral wallpaper
The modern ironing board revolutionized homemaking.Steven Errico/Getty Images

Before Boone's invention, women's garments were traditionally ironed across a wooden plank set upon two chairs. Boone wanted to create a board that could be slipped underneath sleeves to get an even iron, without the impressions that wooden boards often left behind.

With the invention of the ironing board, which Boone described as an effort to "produce a cheap, simple, convenient and highly effective device, particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies' garments," she became one of the first African American women to be awarded a patent, according to Biography.

With the rise of multilevel buildings resulting in deaths from fires, Anna Connelly submitted the idea of exterior fire escapes to the patent office.

house facade with fire escape stairs in East Village, Manhattan, New York
Fire escapes are common on New York City buildings.Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Connelly's invention in 1887 allowed people escaping fires to move from one building to another, as well as the ability to climb down buildings on a steel staircase, according to the Library of Congress.

The invention was also valuable to firefighters, who could use platforms to hoist their equipment up the sides of buildings to fight fires without entering.

Collapsible life rafts, invented by Maria Beasley, revolutionized transatlantic travel safety.

World War II Navy pilot in life raft waiting for rescue
A downed Navy pilot in a life raft waiting for a rescue plane in the South Pacific, April 1944.Horace Bristol/Corbis via Getty Images

Beasley patented her first invention of collapsible life rafts in 1880, according to the University of Edinburgh, though by that time she was a well-known entrepreneur and inventor.

Her rafts took up less space than traditional wooden lifeboats, which were used on the Titanic's fateful voyage. Each raft could hold up to 47 people and introduced the idea of guard rails, which are commonplace in modern life-raft designs, according to St Mary's College.

Some have claimed that Beasley's life rafts were in fact used to evacuate passengers on the Titanic, but author David H. Cropley negated this in his book, "Femina Problematis Solvendis ― Problem Solving Woman: A History of the Creativity of Women."

"In fact, if the four collapsible lifeboats carried on the Titanic were versions of Beasley's design, then something went badly wrong," Cropley wrote. "Only two were launched shortly before the vessels sank."

Shark repellent was invented by none other than famous American chef Julia Child.

julia child and shark
Julia Child invented a shark repellent.Bachrach/Getty Images; wildestanimal/Getty Images

Biography reported that after being fired from her job in the advertising department of home-furnishings company W. & J. Sloane and before starting her journey as a chef, Child moved to Washington, DC.

Once she arrived, she began volunteering as a research assistant for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a newly formed government intelligence agency that would eventually become the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

During her time at the OSS, Child developed a shark repellent, according to History.com, and facilitated the communication of important, top-secret documents between US government officials and their intelligence officers.

Josephine Cochrane invented the first commercially successful dishwasher in the 1880s.

She patented the "Cochrane Dishwasher" (not pictured) in 1886.simm49/Shutterstock

Cochrane was a wealthy woman who wanted a machine that could wash dishes "faster than her servants" could, reported Smithsonian Magazine. After she was granted a patent for her dishwasher, she marketed the machine to restaurants and hotels. Later, Cochrane founded a company for her dishwashers that eventually became KitchenAid.

Alabama native Mary Anderson came up with the idea for windshield wipers when she visited New York City on a snowy day in 1902.

windshield wipers
Drivers once had to get out of their cars and manually clear their windshields.PhotoAlto/James Hardy via Getty Images

Anderson's great-great-niece, Reverend Sara-Scott Wingo, told NPR that Anderson was riding a streetcar that day in New York City. After noticing that the snow caused traffic jams, since there was no efficient way to clean windshields at the time, she began brainstorming ideas for a wiper of some sort.

Anderson received a patent for her "window cleaning device" in 1903.

In 1965, Stephanie Kwolek developed a synthetic fiber that was so strong that it was bulletproof.

bulletproof vest kevlar
Kwolek's fiber is also resistant to tears and extreme temperatures.horkins/Shutterstock

The New York Times reported that when Kwolek started working at the DuPont Company in 1964, her team was focused on finding a strong yet lightweight fiber for tires.

One year later, she made an unexpected breakthrough in her research when she created a new fiber that was five times stronger than steel. DuPont patented the fiber that same year under the name Kevlar, which is now used in everything from bulletproof vests to military helmets to racing sails.

In 1995, Kwolek became the fourth woman to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, according to Carnegie Mellon University.

Elizabeth Magie invented "The Landlord's Game" in 1904. It was later copied, and it sold as "Monopoly" 30 years later.

Needless to say, Monopoly is one of the best-known board games of all time.CaseyMartin/Shutterstock

Magie created "The Landlord's Game" in order to teach people about monopolies, unchecked capitalism, and the "evils of accruing vast sums of wealth at the expense of others," according to Smithsonian Magazine. She was granted a patent for the game in 1904.

In 1935, an unemployed heating salesman named Charles Darrow became incredibly wealthy after selling a copy of Magie's game to the Parker Brothers. Magie, on the other hand, sold her patent to the Parker Brothers for just $500 that same year.

Shirley Ann Jackson's breakthroughs in telecommunications research led to the invention of caller ID and call waiting.

Dr Shirley Ann Jackson
She is now the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.Jim McKnight/AP

With a PhD in theoretical elementary particle physics, Jackson was one of the first African-American women to receive a doctorate from MIT in any field, the university said.

From 1976 to 1991, Jackson conducted research at AT&T Bell Laboratories, where she helped contribute to the development of caller ID and call waiting. In 2016, then-President Barack Obama awarded Jackson the highest honor for scientific achievement in the US, the National Medal of Science.

Along with colleague George Hitchings, Gertrude Elion developed some of the first drugs for treating major diseases such as leukemia, herpes, and AIDS.

gertrude elion
Elion and Hitchings received the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.Bettmann/Getty Images

According to the American Chemical Society, Elion and Hitchings developed a method known as "rational drug design" that helped revolutionize drug making. Their research allowed them to interfere successfully with cell growth, which led to the development of the first effective drugs for treating leukemia, along with several other illnesses.

Elion also discovered azathioprine, an immunosuppressant that made it possible for people with weak immune systems to receive organ transplants.


Cotton mill worker Margaret Knight invented the paper bag in 1868, but a man named Charles Annan tried to steal and patent her idea first.

Brown Paper Bag
This seemingly simple paper bag involved a legal battle.inxti/Shutterstock

Knight's knack for innovation started at a young age. When she was just 12 years old, she invented a safety device for cotton mills, according to The American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

During her time at the Columbia Paper Bag Company in 1867, Knight began working on a machine that created flat-bottomed bags. When fellow machinist Charles Annan tried to steal her idea, Knight sued him and won the patent for her machine after a long legal battle.


In the early 1900s, Lillian Gilbreth tweaked and designed dozens of inventions that improved people's everyday lives, including the foot-pedal trash can.

trash can
One of her most well-known inventions is the foot-pedal trash can.Spiderstock/Getty Images

Known for her contributions to office equipment and household appliances, Gilbreth invented the shelves inside refrigerator doors, filed a patent for an improved can opener, helped General Electric design the proper height for kitchen fixtures, and more, according to The American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Together with her husband, Frank, Lillian also pioneered several industrial management techniques, designed to increase efficiency and productivity. The couple had 12 children, two of whom wrote a famous book about their family's life called "Cheaper by the Dozen."

Grace Murray Hopper helped program the first computers.

grace hopper using an early computer
Grace Hopper using an early computer.Bettmann/Getty Images

Considered one of the first three modern programmers, Hopper made trailblazing breakthroughs in the development of computer languages.

A rear admiral in the US Navy, she is probably best known for inventing COBOL, or "common business-oriented language" in 1959, Yale News reported. By the 1970s, COBOL was the "most extensively used computer language" in the world. It was also the first user-friendly computer software for businesses.

In 2016, Hopper was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, for her contributions to the field of computer science.

In the early 1990s, Fiona Wood revolutionized medical treatment for burn victims when she created spray-on skin.

dr fiona wood inside an operating room
Fiona Wood poses inside an operating room.TONY ASHBY/AFP/Getty Images

In 1993, Wood began working with medical scientist Marie Stoner on a method to grow skin tissue directly on patients instead of in a culture flask, according to the Australian Academy of Science.

The duo launched ReCell, "a spray-on solution of skin cells" two years later. In 2002, ReCell gained international attention after Wood used it to treat severely burned victims of the 2002 terrorist attack in Bali, Indonesia, Vice reported.

An accomplished engineer, Dr. Katharine Burr Blodgett made several important contributions to surface chemistry including the invention of non-reflective or "invisible" glass.

optician glasses

The first woman to receive a doctorate in physics from Cambridge University, Blodgett created non-reflective coatings for eyeglasses and improved cinematography lenses, according to the University of Cambridge.

During WWII, she also made improvements to the smokescreen that helped protect soldiers from toxic smoke exposure.

When Marion Donovan invented the disposable diaper, she was initially mocked by the men who dominated the manufacturing industry at the time.

baby diaper
A baby diaper.Getty

In 1946, Donovan designed a waterproof diaper cover using nylon parachute cloth and plastic snaps, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The diaper cover, which Donovan called the "Boater," debuted at NYC's Saks Fifth Avenue in 1949. It was an instant hit.

Sadly, Donovan's disposable paper diaper, which she invented in the 1950s, never took off. In fact, it wasn't until a decade later that Victor Mills, the creator of Pampers, eventually capitalized on her idea.


Ruth Wakefield invented the first chocolate-chip cookie as a result of a baking mistake.

toll house cookies tin
This vintage Toll House cookies tin was originally made around 1939.digitalreflections/Shutterstock

In 1930, Wakefield and her husband bought a tourist lodge in Whitman, Massachusetts, called the Toll House Inn. One day, while baking cookies, she realized she was out of baker's chocolate and used a semi-sweet Nestlé chocolate bar instead, thinking that it would melt into the mix, according to All Recipes.

However, the chopped-up pieces of chocolate stayed intact, and the chocolate-chip cookie was thus born.

Wakefield went on to call the cookies Chocolate Crunch Cookies and the recipe ended up in a local Boston newspaper, according to Yankee Magazine. The recipe became so popular that Nestlé began printing the recipe on the wrapper of its chocolate bars.

Marie Van Brittan Brown invented the first home security system in the 1960s.

modern security cameras
A photo of two modern security cameras.Jan Kickinger/EyeEm/Getty Images

Van Brittan Brown, who worked as a nurse, came up with the idea of a home security system after seeing the rising crime rates and slow police responses in her neighborhood in Queens, New York City, according to the BBC.

She and her husband, Albert Brown, an electronics technician, filed a patent for their security device in 1966, and it was approved three years later in 1969, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lucy Yang contributed to an earlier version of this post.

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