Category Archives: Did you Know?

First woman in space

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova


They forbade me from flying, despite all my protests and arguments. After being once in space, I was keen to go back there. But it didn’t happen.”

First woman to have flown in space, having been selected from more than four hundred applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963.(1) After 48 orbits and 71 hours, she returned to earth, having spent more time in space than all U.S. astronauts combined to that date.(2)

In order to join the Cosmonaut Corps, Tereshkova was honorarily inducted into the Soviet Air Force and thus she also became the first civilian to fly in space.(1)

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born to a peasant family in Maslennikovo, Russia, in 1937. She began work at a textile factory when she was 18, and at age 22 she made her first parachute jump under the auspices of a local aviation club. Her enthusiasm for skydiving brought her to the attention of the Soviet space program, which sought to put a woman in space in the early 1960s as a means of achieving another “space first” before the United States.(3)

The desire by Soviet Russia to send a woman into space was encapsulated in the diary of Lt General Kamami, head of the cosmonaut training programme, who wrote: “Under no circumstances should an American become the first woman in space – this would be an insult of Soviet women.” In the end Russia beat the US by 20 years.(4)

As an accomplished parachutist, Tereshkova was well equipped to handle one of the mostVT challenging procedures of a Vostok space flight: the mandatory ejection from the capsule at about 20,000 feet during reentry. In February 1962, she was selected along with three other woman parachutists and a female pilot to begin intensive training to become a cosmonaut.

In 1963, Tereshkova was chosen to take part in the second dual flight in the Vostok program, involving spacecrafts Vostok 5 and Vostok 6. Tereshkova was launched into space on June 16 aboard Vostok 6.

During launch, Tereshkova shouted: “Hey sky, take off your hat! I’m coming to see you.”(4)

Speaking at London’s Science Museum at the launch of a new exhibition Cosmonauts: birth of the Space Age she revealed how the Soviet space agency had thought of most things, but had not remembered to pack her a toothbrush.

Unfortunately it is a fact,” said Dr Tereshkova, 78. “But I’m very resourceful as any woman would be. I had my toothpaste, and I had my hand, and I had water.”(4)

An error in the spacecraft’s automatic navigation software caused the ship to move away from Earth, a fact that was classified for about 40 years. Tereshkova noticed this and Soviet scientists quickly developed a new landing algorithm. (3)

On June 19, after just under three days in space, Vostok 6 reentered the atmosphere, and Tereshkova successfully parachuted to earth after ejecting at 20,000 feet.(2) She landed safely but received a bruise on her face. She landed in the Altay region near today’s Kazakhstan-Mongolia-China border. Villagers helped Tereshkova out of her spacesuit and asked her to join them for dinner. She accepted, and was later reprimanded for violating the rules and not undergoing medical tests first.(3)

After her historic space flight, Valentina Tereshkova received the Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union awards. In 1966, Tereshkova became a member of the Supreme Soviet, the USSR’s national parliament, and she served as the Soviet representative to numerous international women’s organizations and events. She never entered space again, and hers was the last space flight by a female cosmonaut until the 1980s.

The United States screened a group of female pilots in 1959 and 1960 for possible astronaut training but later decided to restrict astronaut qualification to men. The first American woman in space was astronaut and physicist Sally Ride, who served as mission specialist on a flight of the space shuttle Challenger in 1983.(2)



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Florence Parpart

Very little is known of Florence Parpart, other than census records and United States Government patent applications. Born in the Hoboken, New Jersey, Parpart was listed as a housewife in the United States Census for the majority of her life. As is the case with many early female inventors, local sources paint an entirely different picture.

Although the first street sweeper patent was awarded to Eureka Frazer Brown in 1879, Parpart improved the street sweeper and its manufacturing process for widespread use. Parpart spent the majority of her life in New York City and Philadelphia, and both cities needed additional street sweepers to keep residential and commercial areas clean. Parpart won her patent in 1900.

Martha Rayne, a female author, wrote in 1893, “A Hoboken lady, after having her dress splattered with mud by a clumsy street sweeping machine, invented a new street sweeping machine.” Although her name is not mentioned or known by Rayne, many historians believe she was referring to the innovative Parpart. By 1902, Parpart had contracts with cities as far away as San Francisco to manufacture and deploy her street sweeper design.

In 1914, Parpart won a second patent for the modern refrigerator, rendering the icebox obsolete for those with access to electricity. Many believe that Parpart’s then fiancée was highly skilled in electrical circuitry and assisted in the design of the first prototype. Already an experienced entrepreneur, Parpart was highly successful in marketing and selling her refrigerators. She attended multiple trade shows, developed her own advertising campaigns and managed the production operations, alongside her husband, of additional refrigerators. Parpart was a true female entrepreneur and gifted inventor.(1)




Shirley Ann Jackson

First woman and African American to serve as the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1995). In 1999, Jackson was hired as the 18th president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, also the first woman and African American to hold that role. She renewed her contract in 2010.(1)

Born 1946, Washington, D.C., As a child growing into adulthood, Jackson’s family placed a high importance on her education. At the age of 8, Jackson developed a passion for science, knowledge, and accomplishment conducting experiments such as those on the eating habits of honeybees.(2) She graduated as valedictorian from a segregated Roosevelt High School and then joined the first African-American students to be accepted at MIT in 1964.(3) Earning her bachelor’s degree in 1968, Jackson went on to receive her doctoral degree in Theoretical Solid State physics from the same university in 1973, being the first Black woman to do so in the history of MIT.

Her experiments with theoretical physics are responsible for many telecommunications developments including the touch tone telephone, the portable fax, caller ID, call waiting, and the fiber optic cables that make overseas phone calls crystal clear.(4)

In 2014, United States President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Jackson as Co-Chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. The Board assesses issues pertaining to the quality, quantity, and adequacy of intelligence activities; the effectiveness of organizational structure, management, and personnel; and the performance of all agencies of the federal government engaged in the collection, evaluation, or production of intelligence, or the execution of intelligence policy.(5)


Aim for the stars, so that at least you can reach the treetops. – Shirley Jackson(6)



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The Greatest Fossilist the World Ever Knew

Mary Anning (1799-1847) – “The greatest fossilist ever known”      Mary_Anning_Plaque

Despite the fact that Mary Anning’s life has been made the subject of several books and articles, comparatively little is known about her life, and many people are unaware of her contributions to paleontology in its early days as a scientific discipline. How can someone described as ‘the greatest fossilist the world ever knew‘ be so obscure that even many paleontologists are not aware of her contribution? She was a woman in a man’s England.(1)

Mary’s contribution had a major impact at a time when there was little to challenge the biblical interpretation of the story of creation, the genesis flood and the historicity of Noah’s ark. The spectacular marine reptiles that Mary unearthed shook the scientific community into looking at different explanations for changes in the natural world.(2800px-AnningIchthyosaurSkull

Mary Anning’s discoveries were some of the most significant geological finds of all time. She found the first complete Ichthyosaur in 1810-1811 and over the years further sensational finds were made. New, more complete skeletons of ichthyosaurs were discovered, followed by a complete skeleton of the long-necked Plesiosaurus, the ‘sea-dragon’ in 1823. This was followed by the ‘flying-dragon’ Pterodactylus in 1828 and others.(2)

The entire Anning family lived in Lyme Regis, situation on the southern shores of Great Britain and was involved in fossil hunting. Mary’s father, Richard, passed away in 1810 leaving the family in debt without a provider and having learnt the art of identifying fossils from him, Mary showed exceptional skill and dedication producing many remarkable finds and thus providing the fatherless family with a means of income. The fossils that Mary and her family found and prepared were eagerly sought – not only by museums and scientists, but by European nobles, many of whom had substantial private collections of fossils and other “curiosities.” The Annings became legitimate and respected fossilists in the eyes of the scientific community. By the mid-1820’s, Mary had established herself as the keen eye and accomplished anatomist of the family.(1)

In spite of this recognition, the majority of Mary’s finds ended up in museums and personal collections without credit being given to her as the discoverer of the fossils. As time passed, Mary Anning and her family were forgotten by the scientific community and most historians, due to the lack of appropriate documentation of her special skills. Contributing to the oversight of Mary Anning and her contribution to paleontology was her social status and her gender. Many scientists of the day could not believe that a young woman from such a deprived background could possess the knowledge and skills that she seemed to display. For example, in 1824, Lady Harriet Sivester, the widow of the former Recorder of the City of London, wrote in her diary after visiting Mary Anning:

“. . . the extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved. . . It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour – that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.”

Lady Sivester’s praise is high, but note that “divine favour” is invoked to explain how such a woman could possibly be so knowledgeable. It is clear, however, that Anning was not only a collector, but was well-versed in the scientific understanding of what she collected, and won the respect of the scientists of her time. Her discoveries were important in reconstructing the world’s past and the history of its life.(1)

In 1834, the deeply eccentric fossil collector Thomas Hawkins sold to the British Museum a collection of fossil marine reptiles. The biggest and best beast of his collection was his “great sea dragon” (Temnodontosaurus platyodon). But Hawkins didn’t collect the fossil himself; it was collected by Anning. The fossil is on displayPlesur - museum at the Natural History Museum of London in Kensington. The Sedgwick museum also displays Anning’s portrait next to the Plesiosaur fossils.

Although wealthy fossil collectors often had fossils named after them, Geologists Hugh Torrens and Michael Taylor reported in 1995 that Anning was yet to be commemorated in the name of a British fossil reptile.

Anning’s reputation has gotten similarly mixed treatment from modern science historians. In his 708-page Bursting the Limits of Time, Geology & Paleontology historian Martin Rudwick devotes a sentence to her:
[A] woman of low social class and little education could become famous for her own collecting activities and make a modest living from such work: Mary Anning of Lyme Regis in southern England was celebrated among a later generation of savants for her skill in discovering the finest specimens of fossil reptiles, though she did not have the expertise to interpret them scientifically.

But in The Dragon Seekers, Canadian Zoologist Christopher McGowan has high praise for Anning’s interpretive abilities:
She read everything and anything she could acquire on fossils, even though she was often able only to borrow the original publications. In these instances she frequently copied out the entire article, including illustrations, and there are several examples of these in the archives of London’s Natural History Museum. One in particular so haunted me that I obtained a xerox copy. I have it in front of me as I write, alongside a copy of the original. It is a paper on marine reptiles, written in 1824 by William Conybeare, arguably the brightest geological light in England at that time. There are eight full pages of illustrations, and I am hard-pressed to distinguish the original from the copy. . . . Indeed, Anning was far more than just a collector of fossils. She analyzed her finds, often comparing the anatomies of the fossils with those of their living relatives.

By the time she died of breast cancer at the age of 47, she had become so well known that Charles Dickens’s journal All the Year Round reported “the carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and deserved to win it.”(3)

mdayanningwindowHer death in 1847 was recorded by the Geological Society (which did not admit women until 1904) and her life and devotion to the local poor commemorated by a stained glass window in St Michael’s Parish church in Lyme Regis(2) – A remarkable acknowledgement of a woman in a man’s trade who through her finds undermined the biblical theory of the genesis of life.

In his presidential address to the British Society for the History of Science, Hugh Torrens (President, 1990-92) described Mary as being from working class, female, unmarried, solitary and, “a doer, not a writer. Anning published nothing under her own name.”(3) But by the time of her death, Geology was firmly established as its own scientific discipline.(2google doodle

On May 21, 2014, Google commemorated Anning’s 215th birthday with a special doodle.
How many of us recognized the greatest fossilist the world ever knew?


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7. Charles Dickens’s journal, All the Year Round
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Woman who tamed Pollution

The major scientific shortcoming of the Industrial Revolution that transformed the U.S. in the years after the Civil War was, and still is, pollution. One of the pioneers in the fight against pollution, especially in large cities, was the independent inventor Mary Walton.(1)

As early as 1879, Walton developed a method for minimizing the environmental hazards of the smoke that up until then was pouring unchecked from factories all over the country. Walton’s system, an improvement on the locomotive and other chimneys, consisted of a smoke-burner that consumed all the smoke from a fire, furnace, or locomotive, as well as certain kinds of dust (patent #221,880) and deflected the emissions being produced into water tanks, where the pollutants were retained and then flushed into the city sewage system. Her burner also destroyed the offensive odors emitted by factories and gasworks. When she traveled to England, British officials congratulated her, calling the burner ‘one of the greatest inventions of the age’.(2)

Some years later, Walton applied her ingenuity to a different kind of air pollution — noise. The elevated trains being installed throughout the larger cities of the U.S. in the 1880s were producing an intolerable amount of rattling and clanging: sociologists even blamed the noise for some urbanites’ nervous breakdowns and neuroses! Walton, who lived in Manhattan near the El tracks, set out to solve the problem. She set up a model railroad track in her basement, and in time discovered an excellent sound-dampening apparatus. She cradled the rails in a box-like framework of wood, which was painted with tar, lined with cotton, and filled with sand. As the vibrations from the rails were absorbed by the surrounding materials, so was the sound.

After successful trials fitting her apparatus under the struts that supported real El trains, Walton received patent #327,422 (granted February 8, 1881). She sold the rights to New York City’s Metropolitan Railroad, which thrived thanks to Walton’s new, environment-friendly system. She received $10,000 and ‘royalty forever’. The system was also adopted by other elevated railway companies. Walton herself was hailed as a hero — and gave voice to feminists.

As the Woman’s Journal put it twenty years later: “The most noted machinists and inventors of the century had given their attention to the subject without being able to provide a solution, when, lo, a woman’s brain did the work...”

Some of the greatest machinists and inventors of the country – including Edison – had evidently tried to solve this major urban nuisance without success. In an age when men did most of the inventing, she rose above tradition to stand out and make a difference.(3)

Not much is known of Mary’s background and how she gained such technical knowledge except a clue from her own statement from 1884: “My father had no sons, and believed in educating his daughters. He spared no pains or expense to this end…

Mary is an example of the fact that education refines true potential irrespective of gender. Let’s pass judgment on gender capabilities when all have one platform to stand on. Simply Denying education is a loss of invaluable resource.

Teach the girl child; move nations forward!


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Dishwasher Woman

Josephine Cochrane (1839-1913)

John Fitch, born in 1743 in Connecticut, built one of the first American steamboats. It was an odd machine – driven by a rack of Indian-canoe paddles. In the summer of 1790, Fitch’s steamboat was used successfully in the passenger line between Philadelphia and Trenton logging thousands of miles at six to eight mph carrying passengers that summer. Although, it failed commercially. Failure broke Fitch and he tried to drink himself to death. When that failed, he finally gathered enough Opium pills to kill himself.(1)

Almost a century later his Great-Grand daughter, Josephine Garis was born in 1839. Josephine’s father, John Garis, helped to build the city that was Old Chicago – before the great fire. So she came from a strong creative lineage. At the age of 19, she married a merchant and politician named William Cochran and tried to live the uptown life of a wealthy socialite in Shelby County, Illinois. She later added the ‘e’ at the end of her name to fancy it up – ‘Cochrane’.

Writer J. M. Fenster tells how, when she was 44, Josephine found that her fine china tableware was chipping. It’d been in the family since the 17th century, and the servants were being careless with it. So she took to washing her own dishes and was chafed at the indignity of it. There had to be a better way around the servants. She sat down with a cup in her hand, thinking – ‘Water jets offered the best means for cleaning dishes. The trick would be to aim jets on china held firmly in some sort of rack’. She started working on a design.

Josephine’s husband was ailing at the time and soon passed away leaving behind a scant fifteen hundred dollars and much more than that in debt. She was now pushed by need and driven by a passion to bring her idea to life. Working in a shed behind her house, she was ready with her new machine four years later. She received her patent on 28 December 1886 and named her company Garis-Cochran (which was renamed to Cochran’s Crescent Washing Machine Company in 1897). She hoped the machine would help housewives slaving over their soiled dishes in home kitchens.

She later said that the hardest part of the task was not turning from a socialite into a mechanic, but turning from a socialite into the promoter of a new product.(2) She failed to attract the home market.

She explained her failure in this way:    c318be0ebdaef887c049daf3c6290282
When it comes to buying something for the kitchen that costs $75 or $100, a woman begins at once to figure out all the other things she could do with the money. She hates dishwashing—what woman does not?—but she has not learned to think of her time and comfort as worth money. Besides, she isn’t the deciding factor when it comes to spending comparatively large sums of money for the house. Her husband sees that adversely, generally, in the case of costly kitchen conveniences—though he will put comptometers and all that into his office every day of the week without even mentioning the fact to her.

She then turned her efforts to hotels and later recalled: “That was almost the hardest thing I ever did, I think, crossing the great lobby of the Sherman House alone. You cannot imagine what it was like in those days for a woman to cross a hotel lobby alone. I had never been anywhere without my husband or father —the lobby seemed a mile wide. I thought I should faint at every step, but I didn’t—and I got an $800 order as my reward.”(3)

Her big breakthrough came in 1893 at the magnificent Chicago World’s fair (the Columbian Exposition). No less than nine Garis-Cochran washers were installed in the restaurants and pavilions of the fair and her dishwasher, placed in the mechanical exhibition, won first place for the “best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work.”
By the 1990’s, Josephine Cochrane, who in 1887 had been afraid to so much as walk across a hotel lobby, was traveling widely to oversee installation of her machines.(3)

While the first model was part-manual where the user poured water over the rack of clean but soapy dishes, her next model was motorized; it pumped the water itself, and moved the rack back and forth. She registered this one for an American patent in 1900. A subsequent model had the racks revolve, and drained itself via a hose into the sink.(4)

After Cochrane’s death in 1913, her company was purchased by The Hobart Manufacturing Company, now famous for its industrial dishwashing machines. Hobart introduced home dishwashers in 1949 under the KitchenAid brand, which is now owned by Whirlpool(5) – finally bringing to women in homes the invention that Josephine Cochrane had intended for them.(3)

Cochrane’s success makes a nice counterpoint to her great-grandfather. John Fitch churned the waters of an earlier America with his steamboat. He failed on the business side, where she at last succeeded. He failed to see his idea succeed – it made powered boats possible. Josephine saw her vision through. But both were inspired amateurs without any Engineering degrees simply driven by a dream. Both set the stage for the kind of lives you and I live all over the world.(2)

Great journeys begin with a dream and are driven by passion. The trick is to lose one day and come back to win the next.


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‘Woman Edison’

Margaret E. Knight (1838-1914)

In 1620, Pilgrims from England to North America first settled in New England, the first settlement being Plymouth Colony. Today, New England comprises six states of the Northeastern United States: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.(1) Look into the role of American women in the 19th century Industrial Revolution and you can’t miss their contribution in the New England textile mills.

Before electricity, manufacturers built their facilities along rapidly flowing water, preferably waterfalls, which provided the energy to turn the waterwheels that powered the belts that turned the wheels inside the factory. Mills expanded from producing lumber and processing grains to manufacturing many types of goods, such as fabric and shoes which families formerly made completely and tediously by hand.(2)

While it was water that powered factory machinery, it was women who ran those machines – almost all of them young. Often these daughters earned more cash money than their fathers and brothers who remained on the farm.

Margaret Knight was one of these factory girls but she was different from most with her keen eye and mind for inventions. In 1850, at the age of 12, while working in a factory in Manchester, New Hampshire, she saw a shuttle fly from a machine and injure a worker. These accidents happened all too often. Knight conceived a device that would automatically stop a machine if something got caught in it (a stop-motion device). By the time she was a teenager the invention was being used in the mills. A patent was never filed as at the time she was too young and her family too uneducated.

By the late 1860’s, Knight was working for a paper bag manufacturer in Springfield, Massachusetts. She thought how much easier it would be to pack items in paper bags if the bottoms were flat (which they were not at the time). Her keen mechanical mind envisioned a machine that could do the necessary folding of square-bottom paper bags, the kind of bag that still is used today. Within a month she had a sketch of one, and within half a year she had a working wooden model that would cut, fold, and glue the bags together with the turn of a crank.(3) Knight took her wooden model to Boston to be cast in iron. There came the twist in her story.   paper-bag-machine

Charles Annan, another machinist, stole her design while it was being cast at a shop and filed a patent. Upon filing her patent, Knight was surprised to find her application rejected. The patent was already granted to Annan. Knight filed a successful patent interference lawsuit and was awarded the patent in 1871. Annan’s argument in court simply was ‘a woman couldn’t have the sense to understand such mechanical complexities’. Knight defended her work through careful diary entries, mechanical drawings, samples, and knowledge. She famously became the first woman to file and win a lawsuit against a man.

10-things-women-invented-4To this very day, thousands of machines based on Margaret Knight’s idea are still used to produce flat-bottom paper bags. Knight didn’t stop there though; throughout her lifetime she would receive over 87 patents and conceive almost 100 different inventions – including a machine for cutting the soles of shoes, a sewing machine reel, a pronged spit, a paper-feeding machine, an ‘automatic tool for boring concave or cylindrical surfaces,’ a numbering mechanism, a skirt protector, and a sleeve-valve engine, among many other inventions. Further, she was in her sixties when the automobile was introduced at the turn of the century, she nevertheless patented a series of rotary engine designs prior to her death in 1914.(2)

She has been called ‘the most famous 19th century woman inventor’ and was awarded the Decoration of the Royal Legion of Honour by Queen Victoria in 1871. A plaque recognizing her as the “first woman awarded a U.S. patent” and holder of 87 U.S. patents hangs on the Curry Cottage at 287 Hollis St in Framingham. (However, Knight was not actually the first female patent-holder. The first was Hannah Wilkinson Slater, wife of industrialist Samuel Slater: she invented two-ply thread, granted a patent in 1793). Knight was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.(4)

At the time of her death, an obituary described Knight as a ‘Woman Edison’. In actuality, she was something greater – she was a woman inventor named Margaret Knight.(5)





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The Beauty who invented Wifi

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)

Better known for her Silver Screen exploits, Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) also became a pioneer in the field of wireless communications following her emigration to the United States. The international beauty icon, along with co-inventor George Anthiel, developed a “Secret Communications System” to help combat the Nazis in World War II and win the Cuban missile Crisis. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.(1)

This “spread spectrum” system became the backbone of current wireless technology. Anthiel and Lamarr received a patent for the technology in 1941, and while Lamarr received little recognition for her efforts at the time, her status as a pioneer was acknowledged over 50 years after her patent.(2) Unfortunately, Hedy had lost herself by then – her confidence, her value, her worth!

She possessed the kind of beauty that was haunting – an almost smoldering sensuality, with an exotic accent to match. She was once dubbed “the most beautiful woman in the world.”

The boys abroad, during the Second World War, voted her the most desirable, beautiful actress or pinup that they could possibly see,” said writer Richard Rhodes. “She had a great deal of fame and fortune, but not that inner satisfaction that she wanted in life.

Born to Jewish parents in Austria, the war in Europe was never far from her mind. It was Hedy’s idea for a secret communications system – specifically one that could guide a torpedo using a technology called “frequency hopping” – so that signal couldn’t be intercepted.
She set aside one room in her home, had a drafting table installed with the proper lighting, and the proper tools – had a whole wall in the room of engineering reference books.” That, Rhodes said, was where she “invented.

Hedy thought if pianos could be synchronized to hop from one note to another, why couldn’t radio signals – steering a torpedo – hop as well? She found a partner in George Anthiel, a Hollywood composer who also had a passion for inventing new technologies.
Hedy’s idea was if you could make both the transmitter and the receiver simultaneously jump from frequency to frequency, then someone trying to jam the signal wouldn’t know where it was,” said Rhodes.

Experts who reviewed the concept then felt it was viable however when she presented this to the US Navy, they put it on the back shelf. The Navy’s response to her proposal was, “You should go raise money for the war. That’s what you should be doing instead of this silly inventing.”

So Hedy did precisely that, using her celebrity to raise millions in war bonds – dismissed again for her brains in favor of her beauty.

And she watched in silence as other “frequency hopping” inventors took the technology to heights Hedy never could have imagined.

Today, frequency hopping is used with the wireless phones that we have in our homes, GPS, most military communication systems – it’s very widely used,” said Rhodes.

But it was those building on her idea who got the credit. Hedy had quietly signed her patent over to the Navy, and left it at that. She gave the technology away, and never made a dime off of it.

Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr

Hedy died alone in Florida at the age of 86. Her obituaries began with what everyone already knew, her beauty, and made only glancing references to the invention she had hoped would prove her mind was beautiful, too.(3)

So while you read this post navigating through the World Wide Web over your Wifi connections at home, in the office, at Wifi Hotspots; remember the lady who made this possible and revolutionized the way we all connect and communicate!

Hedy Lamarr – Lady of Beauty and Immense Brains – A potential lost within Gender Stereotype!

Richard Rhodes is the author of ‘Hedy’s Folly – The Life and Breakthrough inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The most beautiful woman in the world’

Update: It’s time…

November 2017: Hedy Lamarr starred in biblical blockbusters. Now a Susan Sarandon-produced film will tell how her scientific work pioneered modern communications.

Excerpt: Until now, Lamarr’s part in the development of what she called “frequency hopping”, a way to avoid the German jamming of radio signals, has remained an obscure bit of Hollywood trivia. However, as the Los Angeles film industry is shaken by accusations of in-built sexism in the wake of revelations about producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuses, Sarandon and the German film actress Diane Kruger, a fan of Lamarr who appears in the documentary, believe her hidden scientific talent will finally be recognised.

Dean told Vanity Fair this year that Lamarr opens the tapes by saying: “I wanted to sell my story … because it’s so unbelievable. It was the opposite of what people think.” Lamarr also complains about Hollywood’s obsession with appearances, which she found dull: “The brains of people are more interesting than the looks, I think.”



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‘Amazing Grace’

Dr. Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992)

United States Navy Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper was a remarkable woman who grandly rose to the challenges of programming the first computers. During her lifetime as a leader in the field of software development concepts, she contributed to the transition from primitive programming techniques to the use of sophisticated compilers. She believed that “we’ve always done it that way” was not necessarily a good reason to continue to do so.(1)

Throughout her years in academia and industry, Admiral Hopper was a consultant and lecturer for the United States Naval Reserve. After a seven-month retirement, she returned to active duty in the Navy in 1967 as a leader in the Naval Data Automation Command.

Admiral Hopper believed that the major obstacle to computers in non-scientific and business applications was the dearth of programmers for these far from user-friendly new machines. The key to opening up new worlds to computing, she knew, was the development and refinement of programming languages – languages that could be understood and used by people who were neither mathematicians nor computer experts. It took several years for her to demonstrate that this idea was feasible.(1) She invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, and was one of those who popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages.

She is also credited with popularizing the term “debugging” for fixing computer glitches (inspired by an actual moth removed from the computer).(2)

It was unusual for a woman in the 1950’s and 1960’s to have the kind of job Hopper did. She was outstanding in marketing and had amazing technical skills. Her nickname in the navy was “Amazing Grace.” People listened to her because she had the technical skills and the vision. She never gave up on her ideas. These qualities are what put her in the forefront of computing. Hopper had an edge over everyone in the computer business because she believed that there was always a way to improve on the technology. Through her dedication, knowledge, and determination she took the world of computers to a new level.(3)

She holds honoree doctorates from over thirty universities and many of her writings have influenced programs made today.(4)





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World’s First Computer Programmer

Ada Byron (1815-1852)

Daughter of a brief marriage between the Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabelle Milbanke, who separated from Byron just a month after Ada was born. Four months later, Byron left England forever. Lady Byron wished her daughter to be unlike her poetical father, and she saw to it that Ada received tutoring in mathematics and music, as disciplines to counter dangerous poetic tendencies.

Mother and daughter were part of the elite London society where the participation of noblewomen in intellectual pursuits was not widely encouraged but in 1828, Ada produced the design for a flying machine. It was mathematics that gave her life wings.

Married to William King in 1835 at the age of 20, Ada became the Countess of Lovelace in 1838. She had three children and the family and its fortunes were very much directed by Lady Byron.(1)

Lovelace was a brilliant mathematician and understood that numbers could be used to represent more than just quantities: they could represent data, as well. She found a kindred spirit in Cambridge professor Charles Babbage, and added notes to his theoretical paper for an Analytical Engine – the world’s first general purpose computer – before publication in 1843. She helped him see that a machine designed to read numbers could also be made to manipulate any data represented by those numbers. She even thought machines like that could compose music, produce graphics, and aid in scientific research… and she was proven right over 100 years later.(2)

Unfortunately none of Babbage’s machines were built in his lifetime as they required advanced construction techniques beyond the scope of engineering of the day.               AdaLovelaceplaque

The computer language ADA is named after Ada. It was created on behalf of the United States Department of Defense, the reference manual being approved in 1980.

This exotic figure in the history of computing is honored with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at 12 St. James’s Square, SW1.(3)

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