Women’s History Month

If You Think Women Haven’t Influenced the Automobile Industry, Think Again…


When it comes to personal contributions to automotive history, it’s not all about recognizable names like Henry Ford, Karl Benz, Walter P. Chrysler and Horace Dodge. There are plenty of women, too, who have had significant influence over the development of our four-wheeled friends, and in honor of March being Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look at a few of the more interesting innovations and inventions by women that we use and enjoy every day we roll – or zoom – down the road in our favorite car.

Brake Pads In 1888 Bertha Benz (upper left) not only took the first long-distance road trip in a car her husband developed (with her financing) but also conceived the notion of brake pads when the vehicle’s wooden brakes failed along the way and she asked a cobbler to install leather replacements. (Also in photo, a recreation of the car she drove the 1886 Benz-Patent Motorwagen on display in our Museum.)

Signals In 1914 Florence Lawrence (upper right), known as “the first movie star,” developed a mechanical signalling arm that – at a press of a button – raised or lowered a flag on the car’s rear bumper. This told other drivers which way the car was going to turn. Later she invented a brake indicator, a flap on the rear which read “STOP”, actuated by depressing the brake pedal. (These ideas Lawrence never patented, but others further developed them.)

Windshield Wipers In 1903, after witnessing trolley drivers in New York City clear snow and rain from their windows by hand, Mary Anderson (lower right) invented a manual lever that operated a wiper from inside the car.

GPS And Wi-Fi In 1941 Actress Hedy Lamarr (lower left) pioneered the technology that became the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communications systems.

Non-Reflective Glass In 1938 Katharine Blodgett, the first woman hired by General Electric, used her Ph.D in physics to engineer anti-reflective coatings for glass. Her technology was used not only for car windshields but also for camera lenses, movie projectors, submarine periscopes, eyeglasses, computer screens

Car Heaters In 1893 Margaret Wilcox, a mechanical engineer, invented a system whereby hot air from an engine was channeled back into the cab of a vehicle.