Inventor of the Week Archive
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Anna Wagner Keichline was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania
in 1889, and it was clear by the time she was a teenager that
she was an extraordinary woman who wasn’t going to let
the era’s gender barriers hold her back from pursuing
her goals. One of four children, her parents encouraged her
to develop her natural talent for carpentry and mechanics.
She was fortunate enough to have been given her own carpentry
tools and a home workshop, and by age fourteen, she had become
locally known as a skilled craftswoman, winning a prize at
the Centre County Fair for an oak table she built herself.
In 1906, Keichline graduated from Bellefonte High School
and went on to study mechanical engineering at Pennsylvania
State College. Just a year later she transferred to Cornell
University to pursue an architectural degree. She believed
that women were well suited to this field, especially since
they had intimate knowledge and understanding of how a household
functions and how various rooms in a home would be used by
its occupants – particularly kitchens. She designed
an improved, space-saving sink & washtub which she patented
in 1912, a year after graduating from Cornell with her B.A.
In 1920, Keichline became the state of Pennsylvania’s
first registered female architect. She designed buildings
in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Washington D.C., and continued
to come up with ideas for improved household environments,
earning a patent in 1924 for a kitchen design that included
sloped counter tops and clear-glass cabinets to make cleaning
and organizing easier. In 1929, she patented a bed for a small
apartment that could be folded into the wall.
Keichline would receive seven patents over the course of
her lifetime, but her most famous invention was a brand new
building component she designed known as the “K Brick.”
Keichline’s K Brick was an inexpensive, light, fireproof
clay brick that was to be used for hollow wall construction.
It could be filled with sound-proofing or insulating materials,
making it versatile and efficient. The K Brick would lead
to the development of today’s concrete block. She patented
the design in 1927 and was honored by the American Ceramic
Society in 1931.
Not only was Keichline successful in her architectural career,
but she was also active on a national level with causes such
as women’s suffrage and President Herbert Hoover’s
Better Housing Conference. She participated in World War I
as a special agent for military intelligence. She also owned
and enjoyed repairing her own car. She died in 1943, and her
great niece, Nancy Perkins, carried on her legacy through
establishing her own industrial design firm, Perkins Design
Ltd. Perkins has also been awarded several patents for improved
household appliances including vacuum cleaners and car batteries.