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WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

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Beulah Louise Henry - "Lady Edison" (1887 - 1973)

Posted January 29, 2008 6:00 AM by Sharkles

Beulah Louise Henry was a self-educated inventor whose imagination and prolifically earned her the nickname "Lady Edison". Beulah was granted 49 United States patents over the course of her life and is responsible for over 100 inventions. Not technically inclined, she was able to visualize the devices she wished to make and explain them to mechanical engineers and model makers who then constructed them. In her own words, "I cannot make up my mind whether it is a drawback or an advantage to be so utterly ignorant of mechanics as I am, I know nothing about mechanical terms and I am afraid I do make it rather difficult for the draftsmen to whom I explain my ideas, but in the factories where I am known, they are exceedingly patient with me because they seem to have a lot of faith in my inventions."

Beulah was born September 28th, 1887 in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a child, her family lived for some time in Memphis, Tennessee but later moved back to North Carolina where she spent the rest of her childhood. Beulah was a descendant of Patrick Henry ("Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death"). Her father was an authority on art, her mother was an artist, and her brother was a song writer. Beulah may have had mild Synesthesia, a condition where the mind will assign sensory attributes to other senses, for instance associating colors to sounds; this condition is often found in inventive or artistic people and tends to run in families. Beulah attended Presbyterian and Elizabeth Colleges in Charlotte, North Carolina. Although it is said she had invented even as a child, it was in her 20's when she filed for her first patent.

Beulah Henry's first patented invention was a vacuum ice freezer in 1911, she was 24 when it was filed. See Patent Here.

Beulah moved to New York City in 1919, living in hotel apartments surrounded by models of her inventions and ideas she had made. An important early invention was an umbrella with a snap-on cloth cover that allowed the owner to coordinate the umbrella with clothing (See Patent Here). The invention was a huge success and in 1924 she appeared in Scientific American as one of their "Outstanding Inventors". The rights to the umbrella cover invention sold for $50,000, enough money for her to set up a laboratory staffed with mechanics, model makers, and draftsmen to turn her ideas into prototypes.

Over the next 50 years she would continue to invent. One invention was a sponge that held a bar of soap in the center and was snapped in called the "Latho". Beulah also had to invent the machine to cut the sponges correctly as it did not exist at that time. Another invention was the "Miss Illusion" doll, which came with blonde and brunette wigs and eyes that changed from blue to brown with the push of a button.

Other inventions by Beulah Louis Henry (Lady Edison) include:

Hair Curler (1925)
Parasol Bag (1925)
Umbrella Runner Shield Attachment (1926)
Water-Sport Apparatus (1927)
Poodle-Dog Doll (1927)
Ball Covering (1927)
Foot Covering (1927)
Sealing Device for Inflatable Bodies (1929)
Valve For Inflatable Articles (1929)
Henry Closure Construction (1930)
Henry Valve for Inflatable Articles (1931)
Duplicating Device for Typewriting Machines (1932)
Duplicating Attachment for Typewriters (1932)
Writing Machine (1936)
Multicopy Attachment for Typewriters (1937)
Movable Eye Structure for figure Toys (1935)
Double Chain Stitch Sewing Machine (1936)
Feeding and Aligning Device (1940)
Seam and Method of Forming Seams (1941)
Sewing Apparatus (1941)
Typewriting Machine (1941)
Device for Producing Articulate Sounds (1941)
Duplex Sound Producer (1944)
Continuously Attached Envelopes (1952)
Can Opener (1956)
Direct and Return Mailing Envelope (1962)

These patents can be viewed from this link.

Before the end of the 1930s Beulah had earned the nickname "Lady Edison". She was active in the Audubon Society, the League for Animals, and the Museum of Natural History. When asked once why she was an inventor, she responded "I invent because I cannot help myself". In 1939, Nicholas Machine Works hired her to work as an inventor and provided her with a staff and a factory laboratory. Beulah continued inventing up until her death in 1973, and was responsible for over 100 inventions.


References:
http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/273.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beulah_Louise_Henry
http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blbeulah.htm
http://128-167-140-34.hrwweb.com/science/si-science/chemistry/careers/innovative_lives/womeninventors.html

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Previous in Blog: Gertrude B. Elion (January 23, 1918 to February 21, 1999)   Next in Blog: Woman of the Week – Mae Jemison (October 17, 1956 to Present)
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