In 1809, Mary Dixon Kies received the first U. S. patent issued to a woman. Kies, a Connecticut native, invented a process for weaving straw with silk or thread. First Lady Dolley Madison praised her for boosting the nation's hat industry. Unfortunately, the patent file was destroyed in the great Patent Office fire in 1836.
Until about 1840, only 20 other U.S. patents were issued to women. The inventions related to apparel, tools, cook stoves, and fire places. Patents are the proof of "ownership" of an invention and only the inventor(s) can apply for a patent. In the past, women were not allowed equal rights of property ownership (patents are a form of intellectual property) and many women patented their inventions under their husband's or father's names. In the past, women were also prevented from receiving the higher education necessary for inventing. (Unfortunately, some countries in the world today still deny women equal rights and an equal education.)
- The women inventor patent share of annually granted U.S. origin patents rose from 2.6 percent in 1977 to 10.3 percent in 1998.
- The majority of the U.S. origin woman-inventor patents are in the chemical technologies.
- In 1996, 11.2 percent of the U.S. origin patent grants which were owned by the Federal Government at the time of grant included a woman inventor.
- In the past 20 years, about 83 percent of the U.S. origin patent grants to women were for utility patents, 16.5 percent for design patents, and 0.5 for plant patents.
- About 35 percent of the U.S. origin women inventors patents granted during the 1977 to 1996 period originated from California, New York, or New Jersey.
Today, hundreds of thousands of women apply for and receive a patent every year. So the real answer to the question "how many women inventors are there?" is more than you can count and growing. About 20% of all inventors are currently female and that number should quickly rise to 50% over the next generation.