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Process for Weaving Straw
Though little is known of the details of her life, Mary
Dixon Kies has become a familiar name in U.S. history as the
first woman ever issued a U.S. patent.
On May 15, 1809, Kies received her patent for a process
of weaving straw with silk or thread, a method which was employed
mainly for creating women's hats and bonnets. A resident of
Killingly, Connecticut, Kies's action was taken nearly twenty
years after the Patent Act of 1790 secured the rights of all
citizens, whether male or female, to protect their inventions
with a patent. At the time, since women could not legally
own property independent of their husbands, they typically
did not seek to patent their inventions.
In 1802, Washington, D.C. had just recently been chartered by Congress as a city with its own government, and that year, the first official U.S. Patent Office was established within its limits. When Kies secured her patent she was reportedly praised by the First Lady of the period, Dolley Madison, for her contribution to the hat industry. The timing worked particularly well for Kies, because the United States, in an attempt to maintain neutrality when France was warring with several other nations in Europe, had ceased importing European goods. The U.S. government had just begun to encourage more robust domestic manufacturing, and Kies was an excellent role model.
Sadly, Kies's original patent file was destroyed in a tragic
fire at the Patent Office in 1836, in which virtually every
document and model was destroyed. Approximately 10,000 patent
records were lost, as well as hundreds of volumes of original
drawings and notebooks.
By 1840, approximately 20 U.S. patents had been issued to women, mostly for inventions related to cooking, tools and clothing. The numbers grew and grew.
Today hundreds of thousands of women apply for and receive
U.S. patents every year, with more than 12 percent of all
patent applications including a woman inventor.