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Home Inventions

Traditionally, women have stoked the homefires.Therefore, it is not surprising that women are responsible for inventing and patenting many inventions with home and family applications.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878-1972), the mother of 12 children, had good reason to improve the efficiency and convenience of household items. A pioneer in ergonomics, Gilbreth patented many devices, including an electric food mixer, and the trash can with step-on lid-opener that can be found in most households today. She designed an ergonomically efficient kitchen that benefitted all homemakers, as well as disabled persons. Gilbreth's kitchen was the centerpiece of the international training center for the disabled that she directed at New York University.

Anna W. Keichline (b. 1890), the first female registered architect of New York State, also focused her ingenuity on items for use in the home. In the 1920s and after, she patented a number of kitchen appliances and apparatus, as well as furniture, children's toys, a wall-mounted folding bed, and a compressed-air radiator / dryer. In the 1980s, Keichline's great-niece Nancy Perkins followed in her footsteps, patenting better vacuum cleaners and even a car battery.

Ann Moore (b. 1940), while working as a pediatric nurse with the Peace Corps in Togo, Africa in the early 1960s, realized that the slings that native women used to carry their babies provided a great deal of comfort and security, while keeping the parent's hands free. After returning to the U.S., Moore and her mother, Lucy Aukerman, designed and patented the "Snugli" (1969), a rugged, adjustable, pouch-like infant carrier. In-house production led to a buy-out from a national corporation. Today, the Snugli can be seen on the streets of any major American city.

The first woman to patent a design for a house (1869) was Harriet Irwin of Charlotte, North Carolina. This was for a space-efficient hexagonal house that Irwin built herself, and it still stands in her hometown. But the ultimate home inventor is Frances Gabe of Oregon (b. 1915). Her patented Self-Cleaning House, in which she lives, includes at least 70 inventions. As Gabe puts it, "For God's sake, why should people waste half their lives cleaning the house?"

[March 1997]

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