Trailblazers of Engineering

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Jun 25, 2024

From designing iconic bridges to creating life-saving innovations, women engineers have been instrumental in shaping our world throughout history. Their invaluable contributions inspire us to dream bigger and reach higher, proving that with vision and determination, anything is possible.

This past week, K+W For Women in Engineering Day, K+W held a week-long celebration of these incredible women - spotlighting the groundbreaking contributions of our favorite historical female engineers who empowered and inspired the generations of women who came after them.

We hope you enjoyed our countdown of K+W's top eight all-time favorite, brilliant, and impactful women engineers in history.

The journey to select our favorite female engineers was exhilarating. We started by exploring the remarkable achievements of 20 brilliant women engineers in history. The entire firm participated in a spirited voting process, narrowing our selection to eight all-time favorites. Throughout the week, we hosted an exciting countdown unveiling K+W’s top picks! These extraordinary women left a lasting mark on history and inspired generations to come. We celebrated their pioneering spirit and honored their enduring legacy. Follow along below as we recap our top eight favorite women engineers celebrated this past week.

#8: Martha Coston (1826-1904)

Coming in at #8, we have the brilliant Martha Coston, the mastermind behind the Coston flare! This pyrotechnic signaling device revolutionized naval communication, lighting up the seas with its colorful and clear signals. During the Civil War, Martha’s invention was a game-changer, enhancing naval strategy and ensuring messages were conveyed accurately even in the heat of battle. Thanks to her, maritime signaling took a giant leap forward, and her legacy continues to shine brightly in the world of pyrotechnics. Let’s give a round of applause to this trailblazing inventor who truly lit the way for future innovations!

#7: Maria Telkes (1900-1995)

Introducing #7, the remarkable Maria Telkes! This Hungarian-American physical chemist and biophysicist was a true pioneer in solar energy technology. Maria invented the first solar-powered heating system for homes, revolutionizing how we harness the sun's power. Her groundbreaking work in solar energy storage set the stage for the modern solar power applications we rely on today. Maria's contributions continue to shine brightly, illuminating the path toward a sustainable energy future.

#6: Mary Walton (1846-1912)

At #6, we have the visionary Mary Walton! This remarkable American inventor made a lasting impact with her ingenious environmental solutions. Mary tackled the noise and pollution from New York City's elevated trains by inventing a sound-dampening system. She used a wooden box filled with sand, laid along the track, to absorb the sound and reduce the noise significantly. Additionally, she developed a method to minimize air pollution by directing smoke from factory chimneys into water tanks, trapping the pollutants. Her groundbreaking work exemplified early environmental awareness and creativity, paving the way for future innovations in urban sustainability. Let's give a round of applause to Mary, a true pioneer in making our cities cleaner and quieter!

#5: Amelia Earhart (1897-1937)

#5 Amelia Earhart needs no introduction, but let’s revisit her remarkable achievements. This extraordinary American aviator soared into history as the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. But did you know she graduated from Purdue University with a B.A. in Education and a B.S. in Civil Engineering? She also earned an M.B.A. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1935, Earhart became a visiting faculty member at Purdue University, serving as an advisor to aeronautical engineering and a career counselor to female students. Amelia’s adventurous spirit and fearless determination made her an icon, inspiring generations of aviators and adventurers.

#4: Elsie Eaves (1898-1983)

At #4, let’s celebrate the remarkable Elsie Eaves! As the first female member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Elsie shattered glass ceilings and made her mark in the engineering world. Her expertise in construction costs and statistical analysis brought significant advancements to the field. Elsie's trailblazing efforts opened doors for countless women in engineering, proving that determination and talent know no gender. Join us in honoring Elsie, a true pioneer whose legacy continues to inspire the engineers of tomorrow!

#3: Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)

At #3, we have the brilliant Hedy Lamarr! Not just an Austrian-American actress, Hedy was also a groundbreaking inventor who co-developed a frequency-hopping spread spectrum communication system. This revolutionary technology laid the groundwork for modern wireless communications, including Wi-Fi and GPS. Hedy's genius extended far beyond the silver screen, and her contributions continue to shape the world of technology today. Let's give a standing ovation to Hedy, whose innovative spirit and technical prowess have left an enduring legacy!

#2: Emily Roebling (1843-1903)

Coming in second place, we have the incredible Emily Roebling! Best known for her pivotal role in completing the Brooklyn Bridge, Emily stepped up when her husband, Washington Roebling, fell ill. She took on the monumental task of overseeing the construction and managing communications between all involved parties. Her dedication and expertise ensured the successful completion of one of America's most iconic structures. Emily's legacy stands tall, just like the Brooklyn Bridge, inspiring countless individuals with her remarkable story of determination and resilience.

#1: Mary Jackson (1921-2005)

And last but not least, K+W's favorite historical woman engineer is… drum roll, please… Mary Jackson! Mary was an extraordinary American mathematician and aerospace engineer who broke barriers at NASA, becoming the agency's first African American female engineer in 1958. Her brilliant work contributed significantly to the success of the space program, showcasing her remarkable talent and dedication. Beyond her technical achievements, Mary was a passionate advocate for equal opportunities for women and minorities in science and engineering. Her inspiring story was even brought to the big screen in the acclaimed movie "Hidden Figures." Let's celebrate Mary, a true trailblazer whose legacy continues to inspire future generations of engineers and scientists!

As Women in Engineering Week comes to a close, we're reminded of the incredible impact that pioneering women have had on the engineering industry. From Mary Jackson's groundbreaking work at NASA to Emily Roebling's remarkable role in completing the Brooklyn Bridge, these trailblazers have paved the way for future generations. Let's continue to honor and celebrate their achievements and recognize the invaluable contributions of women in engineering. Together, we can inspire the next wave of innovators and engineers!