- The first computer algorithm
- The board game Monopoly
- Dark matter
- The bra
- Nuclear physics
- The square-bottomed paper bag
- Hereditary condition
- Nuclear fission
- 20 discoveries by women that were credited to men
- Microbial genetics
- Windshield wipers
- The first computer algorithm
- Sex chromosomes
- Disposable diapers
- Moon landing path
- Women’s health findings
- The first brain receptor
- Cure for leprosy
- Computer programming language
- Hair straightener
The first computer algorithm
Each year, we recognize and celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day with more education, awareness and conviction than the year before. We are, however, merely at the beginning of a long journey that will affect the systemic change necessary for gender equity. Each step we take to recognize, credit and elevate the work, value, truths and voices of those who identify as women is a step in the right direction.
Throughout history, women who have been overlooked, “mansplained,” and have faced the realities of male-dominated workspaces have come to realize that recognition or credit can never be assumed. Credit is not always given where credit is due. Credit, in particular, for tools and innovations we have come to rely on today, was not given to the women who pioneered them. These women, who devoted their valuable time, brilliance and effort to this work, went unnoticed and unseen. And more often than not, their inventive creations were miscredited to men. From windshield wipers to the cure for leprosy, here are 20 inventions and discoveries that were wrongly credited to men.
The board game Monopoly
Monopoly, once a real-estate board game for grownups, quickly became one of the most popular family game night staples. As the story goes, the out-of-work Charles Darrow conceived of this game after he played something like it with his friends in the 1930s. Except that it wasn’t his idea. In 1903, a modern and brave stenographer by the name of Elizabeth Magie, lovingly called Lizzie, had made up the rules to The Landlord’s Game then secured a patent for it a couple of years later. Here’s where it gets interesting. Parker Brothers knew about The Landlord’s Game before Monopoly became the bestseller it is today. According to the New York Times, “In its efforts to seize total control of Monopoly and other related games, the company struck a deal with Magie to purchase her Landlord’s Game patent and two more of her game ideas not long after it made its deal with Darrow.”
Vera Rubin could write the book on the myriad challenges women face in male-dominated industries. When she and fellow astronomer Kent Ford discovered something remarkable about stars and their orbital movements, Rubin’s calculations revealed that galaxies contain 10 times as much “dark” mass as stars that are visible. This led to the discovery that “at least ninety percent of the mass in galaxies, and therefore in the observable universe, is invisible and unidentified,” according to the American Museum of Natural History. While her trailblazing discovery cracked open the door for other out-of-this-world advancements, she remains without the coveted Nobel Prize recognition her male peers have long since received.
Many iterations of the garment we know as the modern bra saw women squeezing themselves into a number of oddly-shaped corsets, girdles and even handkerchiefs. While corset-like garments can be traced back to 1600 BCE, the modern bra, with straps and cups, was invented in 1914 when the United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded the patent for the “brassiere” to Caresse Crosby (a moniker given to Mary Phelps Jacobs when she moved to Paris). Here’s where this stops being a success story. Jacobs was put in a position to sell her patent to Warner Brothers Corset Company for US$1,500 during World War I. She then watched as the company ended up making over US$15 million for her invention over three decades.
A pioneer in the field, Chinese-born American physicist Chien-Shiung Wu was a bright mind who took on radiation detection work in the Division of War Research at Columbia University in 1944. Wu had an impressive career, and taught at a number of reputable institutions, including Princeton. When two male physicists, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, asked her to conduct experiments to test their theory on the behaviour of nuclear particles, that’s when things went sideways. She proved their theory through rigorous experimentation, known as the Wu Experiment, while Lee and Yang scooped up the Nobel Prize for her work in 1957. She still does not have her Nobel Prize, but she received the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978.
The square-bottomed paper bag
While the contents of lunch is always up for debate, especially for picky eaters, this lunchtime staple is a well-thought container that has been with us for over a century. The square-bottomed paper bag, that is. In 1852, when Francis Wolle of Pennsylvania first designed the brown paper bag it was in the shape of an envelope, and ended up being used in Black communities as a “paper bag test” for inclusion into certain social groups based on skin colour. The square-bottomed paper bag we know today was invented by Margaret Knight in 1868. The patent office wouldn’t accept , and while she was developing the iron model they requested, Charles Annan passed the idea off as his own. Luckily, she put up a legal battle that humiliated this impostor, resulting in her being awarded the patent in 1871.
When chemist Dr. Rosalind Franklin was peering into her microscope, she discovered the truth about DNA. Her photographs, taken in 1952, revealed the double-helix structure that we now see in textbooks. Her work was not properly acknowledged by scientists James Watson and Francis Crick at the time, and because they had discovered the single-helix structure, they were given the coveted Nobel Prize in 1962. Though she passed away from ovarian cancer four years before the Nobel Prize was awarded to her peers, this discovery and her achievements in both chemistry and virus structure research were remarkable.
Surprising things can occur when you split an atom. Uranium is one of the heaviest of all naturally-occurring metals on Earth, and when it is split under certain conditions, it can be used as a tremendous source of energy—called nuclear fission. Splitting uranium to reveal this abundance of energy was a discovery made in 1939 by Lise Meitner, an Austrian-Swedish physicist who had fled Nazi Germany in 1938 to settle in Sweden. Now, do you think this discovery was credited to Meitner at the time? You guessed it—her lab partner, a man by the name of Otto Hahn received the credit for her work, and in 1944 he snagged the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
20 discoveries by women that were credited to men
With an invention that has led to GPS, Bluetooth and secured Wi-Fi, you would think that Hedy Lamarr was lauded as one of the greatest inventors of her time. Sadly, this is not the case. As gender inequities continued to plague systems and spaces in the 1940s, it was from her Hollywood acting career that Lamarr received most of her recognition. The war-era radio communications that she and co-inventor George Antheil had a patent for allowed someone to hop from one frequency to the next with ease, making it undetectable to the enemy. Her contribution to this groundbreaking invention was nearly overlooked as it did not fit her established, glamorous brand.
You may have heard of Joshua Lederberg, Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist; however, history books have left out his partner in the lab and in life, bacterial geneticist Esther Lederberg. This powerhouse couple, who married in 1946, made some remarkable discoveries relating to how genes are regulated. However, it was Mrs. Lederberg that took on the tedious task of proving large ideas in the lab while Mr. Lederberg was credited as the big thinker. When Mrs. Lederberg discovered lambda phage—a virus that infects E. coli bacteria—it was her husband that claimed the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of bacteria and how they mate.
Invented in 1902, the windshield wiper has made our lives safer and road trips more pleasant. When Mary Anderson was visiting New York City on a snowy day, stuck in traffic, she couldn’t help but wonder if there was some sort of blade that could clear the snow from the streetcar’s windshield. After returning to Birmingham, Alabama, she got the patent for the windshield wiper in 1903. After many rejections, she was unable to sell her invention. When cars that reached higher speeds began to sell in the 1950s, the windshield wiper became an indispensable tool. By then, Anderson’s patent had expired, and Robert Kearns took the credit for her invention.
The first computer algorithm
Nowadays, we cannot think of the computer without recognizing mathematician Ada Lovelace’s contributions. She wasn’t in earlier textbooks, but she is now, credited for writing the instructions for the first computer program. Daughter of Lord Byron, Lovelace and her visionary brilliance went unnoticed by historians and her high-brow British community until the early 21st century. Founded in 2009 to celebrate women in STEM careers, Ada Lovelace Day is marked on the second Tuesday of every October.
Sex determination, which served as the foundation of studies on genetics over history, can be credited to Nettie Stevens, who took on most of her work in this field at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1904. At the time, most scientists did not share her theories, and Edmund Wilson, who had made similar discoveries independently—and who was already well known in the field—was given the credit for this work. Following her death, advances in science and the recognition of more women in STEM fields helped shed a light on her incredible work.
While cloth diapers have made a significant comeback due to our demand for more eco-conscious products, it may be hard to recognize how revolutionary the first disposable diaper was for many parents. When Marion Donovan first patented the reusable, waterproof diaper cover in 1951, she was mocked for her discovery. Made from nylon parachute cloth, these diapers revolutionized infant care, and brought smiles to many faces, babies and their caretakers alike. While diaper companies first ignored her patent, the genius that went into this invention was undeniable.
Moon landing path
Recognized in the Hollywood-made biopic Hidden Figures, mathematician Katherine Johnson is a celebrated Black woman in STEM who faced unimaginable challenges in her life and line of work. Today one of NASA’s most celebrated former staffers, Johnson had a brilliant mind from childhood. Subjected to racial and sexual discrimination by her peers at NASA in the 1960s, her work nearly went unnoticed. Her trajectory analysis of America’s first spaceflight, Freedom 7, and later of Apollo 11’s moon landing, led to historic accomplishments and discoveries for NASA.
Women’s health findings
Regarded as the first gynecologist, Trota of Salerno, an Italian doctor who lived and worked in the 11th century, revolutionized the field of medicine by revealing women’s health issues that had been overlooked by male physicians. Her discoveries ranged from pregnancy-related complications to those related to female hygiene. She also made a splash in the field by suggesting that men could be sterile, as well. During the Renaissance era, some denied that she was a woman, or even a real person. Scholars today know better, and reference her studies and findings regularly.
The first brain receptor
Dr. Candace Pert is a celebrated neuroscientist and pharmacologist with over 250 published articles to her name, and lovingly called “The Goddess of Neuroscience” by her fans. She was the first to discover the opiate receptor, the first of the brain receptors to be found. This led to leaps and bounds of research on brain function. However, she did not receive proper recognition for her work, and instead got slighted by her supervisor, Solomon Snyder, in 1978.
Cure for leprosy
For hundreds of years, chaulmoogra oil, which was known to have negative side effects, was used to treat skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy. That was until Alice Augusta Ball, an extraordinary Black female chemist, revealed something remarkable in her groundbreaking research in a hospital in Hawaii. By extracting the active ingredient from chaulmoogra oil, she discovered the cure for leprosy in 1916. According to a source, Arthur L. Dean, chemist and president of the University of Hawaii, without having contributed to her work in any way, published her findings as the “Dean Method” rather than the “Ball Method”. It would be decades before she received her due credit for this discovery.
Computer programming language
Many are quite familiar with the contributions Dr. Grace M. Hopper has made to the field of computer science. Her work is celebrated across the world each year. However, she wasn’t exactly put on a pedestal when she created the first computer language compiler tools to program the IBM Harvard Mark I computer. While mathematician John von Neumann laid down the fundamental principles of computation, it was Hopper that invented codes to program it.
When the hair straightener patented by Isaac K. Shero entered the market in 1909, women rejoiced. Before then, the curling iron had been invented around 1872 by Marcel Grateau, and he also laid claim to the straightener in the 1870s. It was, however, “the market” that overlooked the fact that Ada Harris, a schoolteacher in Indianapolis, claimed the patent for the straightener in 1895. By including a comb section with teeth, her invention combed and straightened the hair in one smooth motion.
Neuron stars, also called pulsars, are being used today by scientists to “study extreme states of matter, search for planets beyond Earth’s solar system and measure cosmic distances,” according to Space.com. While working as a research assistant at Cambridge, soon-to-be-astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered irregular radio pulses. When she brought this to the attention of her team and her advisor, they uncovered that these were pulsars. As history goes, Burnell received no credit for this discovery, and in 1974 the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Martin Ryle, and, you guessed it, her advisor Antony Hewish.