Women inventor save lives

Published 12:00 pm Friday, March 11, 2022

Each March, Women’s History Month is observed and celebrated for the vital roles women have played in American history and beyond. Each week throughout the month of March The Farmville Herald will highlight women who have made significant impacts and accomplishments in their lifetime.

Women have made a profound impact on world history. Innovative women have imagined, developed, tested and perfected their creations.

Women inventors are behind many of the products and technologies used every day from life rafts to disposable diapers to rocket fuel. Women have invented some of the things we use for day to day life.

If you use GPS on your cellphone, turn on windshield wipers when you drive in the rain, or eat a chocolate chip cookie, you can thank the woman behind them.

Maria Beasley, an American inventor, made a fortune with one invention and saved lives with another.

In 1876, Beasley attended the World’s Fair in Philadelphia. At that fair new inventions were on display, such as typewriters, sewing machines and the first telephone. The fair inspired Beasley to get to work on her own inventions.

Between 1878 and 1898, she patented 15 inventions in the United States: these included a footwarmer, an improved life raft, and an anti-derailment device for trains

In 1880 Beasley invented a dramatically improved life raft.

According to an article on Beasley from St. Mary’s College, her improvements to the life raft is one of only a few early women inventions where money was made.

According to the college four of her collapsible life rafts were used on the Titanic. Each could fit 47 people and took up less space than a traditional wooden life-boat.

Beasley also invented a barrel making machine, which was patented in 1878 as her first patented invention.

Her barrel making machine earned her “an unprecedented payday of over $20,000 a year,” which would translate to well over $450,000 today.

Newspapers of her time noted her accomplishments. An 1889 clipping of the Evening Star, a newspaper in Washington, DC, said Beasley “made a small fortune out of the machine.” In 1901, another paper in Arkansas — the Arkansas Democrat — mentioned that the machine was rolling out 1,500 barrels per day.

Despite her accomplishments, in the 1880 US Census, Beasley was listed as an “unemployed housewife.”