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Back to School… and Back to History: Three Female Inventors Who Improved the Classroom

Written By: Seher Allahbachayo

School supplies are the unsung heroes of millions of students’ academic journeys. These handy tools, whether they are as simple as a pencil or as intricate as a projector, continuously aid in paving academic pathways. Though school supplies and classroom decorations may look mundane, many have fascinating origin stories. The following inventions were designed by curious, determined, and brave women, each eager to defy the norm.

The Paper Bag

Credit: Qwizzeria Pictured Margaret E. Knight and her paper bag machine

The paper bag, now an elementary school staple known to hold PB&J sandwiches, was once a burden to manufacture. But this changed after Margaret E. Knight designed the Paper Bag Machine.

An inventor at heart, Knight was known to make kites, sleds, and toys for her neighbors and siblings when she was a child. When she began working at the Columbia Paper Bag Company in 1867, she realized that the process of creating paper bags was wildly inefficient, so she developed a method to automate the process.

Knight’s credit for her inventions had been stolen before, so after developing her new automation process, she was determined to earn a patent for her idea. As she was about to take action, Charles Annan, a man who worked at the paper bag machine manufacturing shop, attempted to steal her design. He claimed that since Knight was a woman, she “could not possibly understand the mechanical complexities of the machine.” Knight fought back, and once she provided the original blueprints of the machine to the court, she was awarded the patent.

The Globe

Quintessential and easy to spot in history or geography classes, the globe takes interactive learning to the next level. A governess named Ellen Fitz desired to find new hands-on methods for teaching. Ultimately, this endeavor led to a new globe mounting technique that would aid students in understanding the Earth’s daily rotation and annual revolution. In 1875, she was granted a patent for her design, and the mounted globe started to make waves in astronomy, geography, and math classes.

Credit: Library of Congress

Correction Fluid

You probably know that White Out has your back whenever you make a mistake with ink, but did you know that it can even help those who are struggling to keep their jobs?

Bette Nesmith Graham knew she had to find a way to hold onto her position as executive secretary for the Texas Bank & Trust. As a single mother with subpar typing skills in the 1950s, she was struggling with the accuracy and patience required of typists at the time. So, she resolved to rectify the typos in her job with her own artistic twist: fast-drying white tempera paint.

Initially labeled “Mistake Out,” the fluid became Nesmith’s secret weapon. She began creating and selling Mistake Out while she was working. Sales started small but soon snowballed to the point where she had to leave her job to manage her business. Mistake Out was later rebranded as Liquid Paper, which is still commonly used today.

Credit: Inclusity

Innovation is often motivated by a person’s desire to make change for the better, whether it involves teaching children more efficiently or keeping a day job. So, the next time you see these items in the back-to-school shopping aisle or a classroom, remember the women that created these innovations.

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