As we celebrate another International Women’s Day, we’ll all be thinking about those special ladies in our lives who make the world a better place in so many different ways.
When it first became an international event in 1911, International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 19th but in 1913, it was switched to the earlier date and has been celebrated on March 8th ever since.
Now championing women across the globe in more than 100 countries, it’s a day for recognising how far we have come in achieving gender equality and an opportunity to consider what more needs to be done to ensure it is fully realised.
It’s also the perfect opportunity to celebrate the achievements women have made in every industry, particularly the automotive field.
So let’s take a step back in time and give a shout out to the female pioneers who laid the blue print for much of the technology, safety features and comfortable tweaks we see in cars today.
The next time you pop the heating on in your car, spare a thought for Margaret. One of the earliest known patents granted to a woman went to mechanical engineer Margaret A. Wilcox in 1893. She designed a system that allowed hot air from the car engine to be channelled into the front cab so passengers could stay cosy.
While it was her husband Carl who created the first motorcar in 1888, people weren’t all that fussed until Bertha decided to take their two sons for a wee 66 mile trip to her mum’s. That one journey to Granny’s was the first long distance trip in a motorised vehicle. It also gave Bertha the inspiration to create the first break pads to help the brakes operate to their full potential.
It’s hard to imagine a journey in Scotland, great or small, without windshield wipers; the near constant threat of a sudden downpour or at the very least, weather that’s a bit driech would literally stop you in your tracks. In 1903, Mary Anderson was traveling in New York when her trolley car driver had both front window panes open for better visibility and she saw other drivers stopping and get out to wipe snow and rain off the windshields. Thinking cap on, Mary was granted a patent for her design of a manually-operated windshield wiper that could be accessed from inside the car.
Staying on the correct side of the road when driving feels like a no brainer but there weren’t always those neat white lines to keep you right. That was the bright idea of June McCarroll who was driving her Ford Model T down a Californian highway in 1917 when she was faced head on by a ten-ton truck and had to move quickly to the right to avoid it. She started a letter writing campaign to have all roads across the country painted with a white line down the centre. It became law in California in1924 and the rest of the US quickly followed.
Although it would appear some drivers out there forget indicators exist, it’s important to note that Florence Lawrence, often dubbed as ‘the first movie star’ created the technology for the first turn signals in vehicles. Using a button found inside the vehicle, a mechanical signalling arm would indicate the direction a car was turning. Unfortunately she never had the design patented and others soon copied her idea before it was made as standard equipment in 1939.
If you’re someone who would quickly crumble on a road trip without the help of your precious GPS (and there’s no judgment if that’s the case), then you have film star and inventor Hedy Lamar to thank. In 1941, she invented wireless transmission technology during World War II which laid the foundations for future WiFi and GPS. A woman of many talents indeed.
One of the obvious fundamentals of safe driving is being able to see. Inventor and chemist Katherine Blodgett, who became the first woman to be hired by General Electric, invented a way to make glass surfaces non-reflective in the early 1930s. Not only was her technology used in windscreens to stop that pesky glare, it was also used in camera lenses, movie projectors, submarine periscopes and computer screens. Gone with the Wind was the first major colour film projected through a lens coated in Blodgett’s work.
You’ll be forgiven for not knowing exactly what ‘molecular sieves’ are but it’s something Edith Flanigen started working on in 1956 and is a pivotal development in the automotive industry’s history. Molecular sieves are still used today to convert crude oil into gasoline, remove water from automobile air conditioners, produce oxygen for portable medical units, and clean nuclear waste.
There are many other women whose impact on the automotive industry has been immense, these are just a few examples. There is still work to be done to encourage more women to enter and lead in this industry, using their innovation to making it a cleaner, more efficient and vibrant field but thankfully we’re seeing a lot of progress.
According to Deloitte’s 2020 Women in Automotive Industry Survey, 68% of women have noticed positive change towards female employees in the last five years.
For now, let’s celebrate all the women who have come before us, the ones we’re lucky enough to know now and all the fierce females of the future!
Click on one of the images below to find out more about Danielle, Jennifer and Joan.