8 Women You Had No Idea Saved Your Ass

Who needs superheroes when you have these ladies?

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1. Anna Connelly

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Fire escapes are usually shown in pop culture as an easy spot for a smoke break, a balcony for peasants, or a convenient spot for a clandestine romantic tryst, but fire escapes are actual life-savers, y'all. Before Connelly submitted her patent for one — aka the first registered patent for a fire escape — in 1887, a fire inside a building was a death trap. And as US cities filled up with crowded tenements, this was a big problem. Connelly's idea was to build metal bridges between buildings so that residents could easily escape to a safe spot without risking their lives by potentially walking down into flames. The ones we know today look a little different, but without Connelly's patent, fire safety might've taken a lot longer to catch on.

2. Maria Beasley

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Don't tell Jack and Rose, but Beasley filed a patent in 1882 for the first modern life raft, a foldable, fireproof floating device with protective guardrails — the exact kind that was used to shuttle most women and children to safety during the sinking of the Titanic 30 years later. Before then, life rafts looked a lot more like the wooden door that Rose lazed about on, and most people didn't fare too well.

3. Letitia Geer

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A syringe, which delivers life-saving vaccines and fluids, is a relatively simple machine that took a surprisingly long time to perfect. For centuries, a doctor or nurse (or whoever wanted to stab stuff with a needle) had to use both hands to operate a syringe, which wasn't terribly convenient. Geer patented a nifty model in 1889 that only required the use of one hand, just like the ones we use today. And for people who regularly have to inject themselves with syringes, like diabetics, this is a necessary feature indeed.

4. Mary Anderson

uspto.gov

You know how annoying — not to mention terrifying — it gets when windshield wipers get all squeaky and stop doing their job during a bad rainstorm? Well, before Anderson, people didn't even have shitty windshield wipers to save their asses when the clouds opened up! Anderson came up with an idea for a window-cleaning device in 1902 after an alarming trolley ride in New York City sleet. She patented her idea, the first effective way to keep windshields clean for safe driving, but she was ahead of her time — windshields were optional (!) in those days, and her idea was rejected by manufacturers. Several men later rode on her coattails by creating similar, more successful wipers, and early advertisements declared them to be the safety measure she knew they could be: "A Clear Sight Ahead Prevents Accidents. An Undimmed Vision Makes It Easier to Drive." Thanks for trying to save our asses, Mary.

5. Katharine Burr Blodgett

siarchives.si.edu

Speaking of windshields: Blodgett's invention of "invisible" glass in 1940 paved the way for the crystal-clear ones all cars have today. Blodgett was an engineer and scientist at GE — and the first woman to have a PhD in physics from Cambridge, NBD — when she discovered how to make low-reflectance glass. Not only was it the perfect thing to use in windshields, it also became the go-to material for eyeglasses. So the next time you put on your glasses and don't, y'know, plummet to your death in an open manhole cover you wouldn't have seen, give a little thumbs up for Blodgett, your savior.

6. Stephanie Kwolek

invention.si.edu

Kevlar, the super strong and stiff fiber that Kwolek invented while working at DuPont in 1965, kind of sounds like the name of a superhero — and that's because it basically is one. The synthetic fiber is so resilient that it can literally stop a steel bullet, and it's now used in bulletproof vests, helmets, and protective gloves. Come to think of it, Kwolek is the real superhero here. Sorry, Kevlar.

7. Marie Van Brittan Brown

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Think of Brown as your guardian angel every time you have peace of mind knowing you have a home security system. Brown, along with her husband, invented a camera-based system in 1966 that let them see who was at the door and set off an alarm or notify a security company if the visitor looked dangerous. They got a patent for their life-saving device in 1969, and it became the forerunner of CCTV and contemporary high-tech home security systems.

8. Flossie Wong-Staal

National Cancer Institute/Bill Branson

The vital HIV tests we take today are the result of Wong-Staal's tireless research into HIV and AIDS. In 1983, Wong-Staal, along with her team, was the first person to identify HIV as the cause of AIDS, a crucial step in understanding the then-mysterious disease. From there, she cloned and genetically mapped the virus, which allowed for research and, later, the development of a "molecular knife" that repressed HIV in stem cells.