WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

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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Woman of the Week – Mary Walton

Posted February 25, 2019 4:30 PM by lmno24

Mary Walton was a crucial part of reducing smog produced by the booming factory surge of the Industrial Revolution.

In 1879, she patented a device that helped minimize the smoke pouring into the air from factories. She also developed a device that minimized the extremely loud sounds coming from New York City’s subways.

While she was living in New York City, she developed a method for directing the factory smoke into water tanks, where the pollutants were kept and flushed into the city sewage systems. The method is listed under U.S. patent #221,880. The system was an upgrade from regular chimneys and consisted of a smoke burner that consumed all the smoke and certain kinds of dusts from fires, furnaces or locomotives. This invention also destroyed the odors associated with factories, which was a welcome change to the cities that the factories came into. She earned some praise for this work, including British government officials calling the burner ‘one of the greatest inventions of the age.’

A few years later, she took her ingenuity to solve a different kind of air pollution by working to quiet the noise from the New York subway system. With subway systems being installed in several major cities starting in the 1880s, the noise problem quickly became evident.

The elevated trains were creating an intolerable amount of rattling and ringing and created a major disruption for everyday life. It was so disruptive that people couldn’t bear living anywhere near the tracks. The city knew a solution was needed and the government commissioned several scientists, including Thomas Edison.

But after six months, none of them had come close to a solution. Walton, who owned a home near the train tracks, was growing increasingly frustrated with the noise and started trying to find her own solution.

She built a model railroad in her basement and experimented with ways to muffle locomotive noise. After some experimenting, she realized the sounds came from the wooden rail ties. She created a box, filled with cotton and sand, which fit between the pairs of ties and was set in place with tar. The vibrations were absorbed by the additional materials and in turn, so was the noise.

After successful installation of her invention on the El trains near her home, she received patent #327,422 on February 8, 1881. She later sold the rights to the New York City Metropolitan Railroad. Trains all over New York were outfitted with her invention and residents rejoiced due to the muffled sounds. She received $10,000 for her work and was hailed as a hero.

In the 1930s, the elevated trains were starting to be phased out as they were still louder than the underground trains. However, a few lines still run on elevated tracks with some semblance of her innovation.

Little information is known about her early years, with the exception of one quote from her on record from 1884. She said “My father had no sons, and believed in educating his daughters. He spared no pains or expense to this end…”

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Join Date: Oct 2008
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#1

Re: Woman of the Week – Mary Walton

02/26/2019 11:14 PM

Wow! I'm impressed that she was a practical engineer who could analyze a problem and solve it on her own.

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Re: Woman of the Week – Mary Walton

02/27/2019 9:27 PM

Not so surprising, millions of women, worldwide are everyday practical engineers.

What's really surprising is how she, in the time she lived, was able to step out of the social norms and present and implement an idea that the male dominated establishment probably never considered.

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