Laundry day – two of the worst words in the English language, and many of us even have it relatively easy today. Since WWII, automatic machines in the home became much more prevalent, perhaps even the norm. For those who don’t have one, laundry day means hauling clothes to the laundromat and waiting for it to be done. Still, that is much easier than the days in which people had to haul it down to the river to get it clean. So, even though we may not like doing it, advances have been made that make laundry day a little less painful. Today we will focus on two inductees to the National Inventors Hall of Fame that have helped make laundry day a little easier.
One invention, and the brainchild of an inductee to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, is only indirectly related to the actual process of doing laundry. In fact, it has led to doing less laundry, especially the not-so-pleasant type. The invention we are referring to is the waterproof diaper cover, which was patented (#2,556,800) in 1951 by Marion Donovan. Not surprisingly, the idea came to Donovan when she became frustrated with the constant changing (and laundering) of her daughter’s cloth diapers and the cleaning of whatever they may have come in contact with.
The second featured invention came from Thomas Jennings, who received his patent (#3306x) on March 3, 1821. Jennings’ patent was for something called “dry-scouring”, which was a predecessor to the dry cleaning that we are all familiar with today. Jennings background was as a tailor, and he saw customers’ frustration when they came in with stained clothing that the products of the day were ineffective in cleaning. Thus, like Donovan, Jennings saw a need and set about to find a method to fix it.
But that is not all that the two had in common. Both had to overcome obstacles in getting their products patented and marketed. Jennings’ issue was that his invention came in the early 1800s. “So what?” you might ask. Well, Jennings was an African American, and, because the Patent Act of 1793 stipulated that only US citizens could receive a patent, Jennings had to prove he was a citizen. Because he was an African American, this would have been harder than it would be for white Americans, but since he was a freedman it was possible. Perhaps because of this, after Jennings had made a good sum of money from both his business and patent, he became active in movements that affected black people in America prior to the Civil War.
For Donovan, the problems were somewhat similar. Because she was a woman, it was difficult for her to get others to take her product seriously. Think of the time frame – this was the 1950s, and the Leave it to Beaver ideal of women was prevalent. When she could not find someone to manufacture her product, she did it herself and was so successful that she sold the rights to it less than a year later for a cool $1 million. Perhaps having learned a lesson here, Donovan continued to invent and market the products herself.
Kudos to both of these inventors who wouldn’t let societal rules and norms get in the way of them delivering on their dreams, and their induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame is well deserved.