Blue Collar Sheroes: Historical Women Who Defied Expectations

By: Jill Caren / Updated:

Who run the world? Girls!

And not just any girls, but badass women who broke barriers and shattered stereotypes to make their mark in male-dominated industries.

From inventing street sweepers to designing rocket fuel, these ladies were not afraid to get their hands dirty and change the game.

So, grab a hard hat and a cup of coffee (or a martini, we don’t judge) and let’s take a look at some of history’s most inspiring women “sheroes” who made our world a better place, one invention at a time.

Emily Roebling – Brooklyn Bridge

We have all heard the joke “If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell to you”.

But, what is no joke is that a woman played a HUGE part in the completion of the Brooklyn bridge.

It is 1872 and Washington Roebling falls terribly ill leaving him unable to manage one of the biggest projects of his lifetime.

What does a loving wife do?

Steps in of course!

Emily Warren Roebling was an American socialite and engineer who played a crucial role in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Emily took over many her husband’s duties, including communicating with the workers and overseeing the construction. She was seen on site every day

She became an expert in bridge engineering and was able to complete the project alongside her husband. Emily’s contributions to the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge were groundbreaking and helped pave the way for women in engineering. She is remembered as a pioneer in her field and a symbol of perseverance and dedication

Emily Roebling Brooklyn Bridge

Tabitha Babbitt – Circular Saw

Those working in construction careers should be thanking Ms. Babbitt every day because her amazing invention makes their lives a whole lot easier.

Born in Hardwick, Massachusetts on December 9, 1779, Ms. Babbitt is the brains behind the circular saw. He invention was first used in a saw mill in 1813 and the rest as they say is history.

Her inspiration was born after she watched two men struggle to cut wood using a whipsaw. She felt that the effort they were using was being wasted and thought a round blade would be more effective.

We think she was right.

tabitha babbitt
image credit: Design Masters

Check out our list of career books for girls, let them be empowered + inspired!

Maria Beasley – Anti-Derailment Device

Maria Beasley was an American inventor who patented fifteen inventions in the United States between 1878 and 1898.

One of her inventions was an anti-derailment device for trains, which she was awarded a patent for in 1898. As higher train speeds were now attainable by the use of electric power, train tracks needed additional safeguards to reduce the possibility of derailment.

Train conductors should be idolizing Beasley since her efforts help keep them safe every day.

She also held several other patents in addition to her anti-derailment device. Some of her other notable inventions include a barrel-making machine, a paper bag machine, and a life raft.

Maria Beasley inventor
image credit: Wikipedia

Katherine Blodgett – Non-Reflective Glass

Katharine Burr Blodgett, born in Schenectady, New York in 1898 was an American physicist and chemist. She was best known for her invention of “invisible” or non-reflective glass while working at General Electric.

Blodgett was the first woman to be awarded a PhD in physics from the University of Cambridge, in 1926. She was also the first female scientist hired by General Electric’s Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York in 1917.

Besides her invention of non-reflective glass, Blodgett also developed a method for measuring molecular layers using a color gauge and received several patents throughout her career.

katherine burr blodgett inventor
image credit: Wikipedia

Stephanie Kwolek – Kevlar

Stephanie Louise Kwolek is literally a lifesaver.

She was an American chemist who invented Kevlar.

Yes, that strong and lightweight synthetic fiber that is used in a variety of applications, including body armor, tires, and sporting equipment.

Kwolek’s career at the DuPont company spanned more than 40 years, during which time she made numerous contributions to materials science. In 1965, while conducting research on high-performance fibers, Kwolek discovered the first of a family of synthetic fibers of exceptional strength and stiffness: poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide, which would eventually become known as Kevlar.

Her invention has saved countless lives and has had a significant impact on the fields of law enforcement and military technology.

Kevlar’s impact on many different jobs in the skilled trades cannot be understated. From gloves to jackets and so much more, it is changing lives every day.

Kwolek’s groundbreaking work has earned her numerous accolades, including induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the DuPont company’s Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement.

Stephanie Kwolek invents Kevlar
credit: Chemical Heritage Foundation, Michael Branscom

Mary Sherman Morgan – Rocket Fuel

Mary Sherman Morgan was a rocket fuel scientist who played a crucial role in the United States’ first satellite launch. Born in 1921 in North Dakota, Morgan developed a passion for science and chemistry at an early age.

In 1957, she invented the liquid fuel Hydyne, which powered the Jupiter-C rocket that boosted the United States’ first satellite, Explorer 1. Despite her significant contributions, Morgan’s achievements were largely unrecognized until after her death in 2004.

Morgan’s work revolutionized the field of rocket fuel and paved the way for future space exploration. She was a true pioneer in a male-dominated industry and her legacy continues to inspire women in STEM fields today.

Mary Sherman Morgan created rocket fuel
credit: George Morgan

Josephine Cochrane – Dishwasher

Josephine Cochrane was an American inventor who created the first successful hand-powered dishwasher in the late 1800s. Cochrane was motivated to create the dishwasher after realizing that her fine china would often chip when being scrubbed in the sink.

She designed and constructed the dishwasher with the assistance of mechanic George Butters, who became one of her first employees. Cochrane’s invention was a significant improvement over previous attempts at automated dishwashing and it quickly gained popularity among hotels and restaurants.

Despite her success, Cochrane faced challenges as a female inventor in a male-dominated industry. She was often overlooked and her achievements were largely unrecognized during her lifetime.

However, her invention revolutionized the way people cleaned their dishes and paved the way for future advancements in household appliances. Cochrane’s legacy continues to inspire women in STEM fields today.

Josephine Cochrane invented dishwasher

Maria Telkes – Solar Energy

Maria Telkes brought us innovation in the world of solar energy. Born in Hungary in 1900, she moved to the US in 1925 to start a career as a biophysicist.

In the 1940s, Telkes collaborated with architect Eleanor Raymond to create one of the first solar-heated houses called the Dover Sun House. It used a system of storage tanks and pumps to store energy collected during the day for use at night.

In 1953, they also created a solar oven that could be used by children in various latitudes.

Telkes’ work was groundbreaking in the field of solar energy and helped to pave the way for future advancements in the use of renewable energy sources.

She received numerous awards and accolades for her contributions to science and engineering, including the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award in 1952. Telkes’ legacy continues to inspire scientists and engineers today, particularly those working in the field of renewable energy.

maria telkes inventor

Sarah Mather – Aquascope

Sarah Mather was an American inventor born in Brooklyn in 1796. She is best known for inventing the first underwater telescope, which she called the “aquascope.”

Mather was granted a patent for her invention in 1845, which was designed to allow for the examination of objects under the surface of the water. Her invention was a significant advancement in underwater exploration and was used by marine biologists, oceanographers, and other scientists to study marine life and underwater environments.

Mather’s work as an inventor was groundbreaking, particularly given the limited opportunities available to women during her time. She was a true pioneer in the field of underwater exploration and her invention paved the way for future advancements in marine science and technology.

Mather’s legacy continues to inspire women in STEM fields today.

sarah mather inventor

Florence Parpart – Refrigerator

Imagine a life without a refrigerator? Yeah, I just can’t!

But Florence Parpart did not invent this creation first, it was actually a street sweeper that would be her first invention.

She was American inventor and entrepreneur who wanted to create something that would help keep her city streets clean. So, she designed and developed the first street-sweeper. This invention revolutionized how cities cleaned their communities and made the work much easier resulting in healthier living conditions.

Parpart filed two patents for this invention, one in 1899 and another in 1901. Both patents listed Hiram D. Layman as co-inventor, despite his only being an investor.

Her next patent would be in 1914 for an improved electric refrigerator in. Her product replaced what many homes were already using, the icebox.

Her electric refrigerator invention was a major advancement in home refrigeration and paved the way for future advancements in the field.

Despite facing challenges as a female inventor in a male-dominated industry, Parpart’s legacy continues to inspire women in STEM fields today.

florence parpart inventor

This is just a small sample of the many women who have done amazing work to make the world what is. There is no limit to what any woman can do – and we hop this inspires you to get out there and do great things!

Jill Caren
Jill Caren
View all posts by Jill Caren

Jill Caren is a self-taught web developer and SEO strategist with a passion for helping kids figure out a career plan. As a "lost" teen who found her way later in life, she hopes to help other teens know the many options that are out there for them! Jill can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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