The Circular Saw
INVENTOR: Tabitha Babbitt
STORY: Babbitt got the inspiration for her invention in 1810, at the age of 26, while sitting at her spinning wheel. Watching a work crew saw wood with a two-man saw, she noticed that half the back-and- forth motion was wasted (the back portion), and envisioned a circular blade. By notching the edge of a thin metal disk and then attaching it to her spinning wheel, she effortlessly cut through a piece of shingle, and the circular saw was born. But because of her religious beliefs (she was a Shaker), Babbitt never pursued a patent.
Modern Computer Programming
INVENTOR: Grace Hopper
STORY: When Hopper, a mathematician and Navy lieutenant, started working at the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corp. in 1949, she was assigned to the team developing UNIVAC I, the first computer for business and consumer use. Back then, all computers were programmed in “binary” code—all 0’s and 1’s. Despite ridicule from her peers, Hopper set about creating a “compiler,” a device to convert human language into binary. Her advancements not only made computers easier to program, but easier to use, as well.
The Surgical Eye Laser
INVENTOR: Patricia Bath
STORY: Before Bath’s breakthrough, cataracts were removed through a very painful procedure that involved drilling and grinding them from the patient’s eyes. In 1988 Bath patented a method of painlessly removing cataracts using a surgical laser. Bath also used lasers to cure certain types of blindness in people who hadn’t seen for more than 30 years. She received patents in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Japan, and is the first African-American woman ever to receive a patent for a medical invention.