From frozen pizza to flat-bottomed paper grocery bags, women inventors throughout history found it difficult to get the patents — and the recognition — they deserved. But these nine brilliant women, and their inventions, persevered and helped make the world of food what it is today.
1. Flat-bottomed paper bags
Paper bags used to look more like envelopes or cones, and their design didn’t allow them to stand upright on a table, making checkout or doing just about anything with your bag of groceries nearly impossible. America’s bags got an upgrade in 1868 when cotton mill worker Margaret Knight invented a machine that made paper bags with a flat bottom. But credit for the design didn’t come easy. A man named Charles Annan saw her drawings and received a patent without giving Knight credit. The female inventor took Annan to court and after a legal battle earned her own patent in 1871.
2. Paper coffee filters
Without automatic coffeemakers, housewives of the early 1900s had to great creative. Most poured hot water over coffee grinds and through a cloth bag, but the process wasn’t perfect — large amounts of coffee grinds were usually left in the cup. To fix this problem, German housewife Melitta Bentz poked holes in a kitchen pot, then lined the pot with paper from her son’s school workbook. Bentz’s realized her new system was a huge improvement, and in 1908 she created her own company, Melitta, which still today sells coffee, filters, drop coffeemakers and more.
3. The foot-pedal trash can
The foot-pedal trashcan was just one of many small improvements Lillian Gilbreth made to existing inventions. A few of her small, but ingenious, tweaks gave us shelves inside refrigerator doors, made the can opener easier to use, and made tossing trash in a can easier with a foot-pedal opener. Gilbreth’s inventions didn’t come by luck. She held a master’s and doctorate in psychology and became the first women elected to the National Academy of Engineering. She had 12 kids — two of which wrote books about their family life. One of these books inspired the 1950s movie Cheaper by the Dozen.
4. The dishwasher
As a wealthy woman, Josephine Garis Cochran entertained often. She wanted a way to wash dishes piled up from her parties faster than her servants — and one that wouldn’t break them. Cochran received a patent for the first useful dishwasher on December 28, 1886. She showed it at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, but only restaurants and hotels showed interest. It wasn’t until the 1950s that dishwashers became standard household appliances.
5. Frozen Pizza
You can thank Rose Totino, a second-generation Italian business woman for that delicious frozen pizza in your house right now. She and her husband opened a take-out pizza shop in Minneapolis in the 1950s, later expanding to a sit-down restaurants, and then offering frozen pies for their customers to take home and bake. By 1962, her pizzas were being mass produced, and shortly thereafter, Totino sold her business to Pillsbury, becoming the company’s first female corporate vice president. Read 25 more mouthwatering facts about pizza.
6. chocolate chip cookies
Chocolate chip cookies are so delicious it’s hard to believe they nearly didn’t happen. The beloved sweet treat was invented by accident in 1930 when Ruth Graves Wakefield decided to whip up a batch of Chocolate Butter Drop Do cookies, an old colonial recipe, for guests staying at her inn — the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts. She realized she was out of baker’s chocolate, but had a block of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate given to her by Andrew Nestlé of the Nestle Company. Wakefield expected the chocolate would disperse through the dough evenly like bakers chocolate, but instead, it retained its form and instead got melty and gooey. Guests loved them so much, Ruth submitted her new recipe, which she called the “Chocolate Crunch Cookie” to newspapers in Boston and New England.
7. the pizza saver
Carmela Vitale of Dix Hills, New York filed a patent on February 10, 1983 for a plastic 3-legged tripod stool that could sit in the center of a pizza and prevent the box from sagging. Although people have found other uses for them, such as egg holders (when turned upside down), their most common use is to keep pizza box lids from sagging into the top of a pie, thus the name.
8. The Ice Cream Maker
Until 1800, ice cream remained a rare, exotic dessert, enjoyed only on occasion by even the wealthiest citizens. That all changed with the invention of Nancy Johnson’s ice cream maker. In 1843 the inventor applied for a patent for her hand-cranked ice cream freezer. The design had a moveable crank and a center paddle to churn the mix around. A delicious dairy dessert would appear after hand-churning for about 45 — a serious improvement for the day.
9. The egg carton
Mary Engle Pennington may have invented the egg carton, but that was just one contribution she made to the world of foods. Pennington was a key scientists is the passage of the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 that marked the beginning of government food safety and regulation, and the FDA, as we know it today. Her research showed that in order for meat to be safe to consume, it needed to be hygienic and properly refrigerated every step of the way. More on Mary Engle Pennington here.