Maria Beasley: Engineering dynamo

This month we’re talking about inventors who wore many hats.

That brings us to our next inventor, Maria Beasley—an “engineering dynamo” of her time.

Beasley secured 15 patents from the late 1870s to the late 1890s, many of which were for machines. Her list of patents ranged from foot warmers to one of the most important transportation innovations of all time: the life raft.

With not one but two patents that worked toward the improvement of the life raft—and a patent for a team generator for train cars—Beasley was an inventor who, during her day, was making strides in improving transportation safety.

Inventor profile: Maria Beasley

Beasley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she pursued her life’s work.

One of Beasley’s inventions that surely impacted her own life and others was her barrel making machine, which was patented in 1878 as her first patented invention. Her barrel making machine earned her “an unprecedented payday of over $20,000 a year,” which would translate to well over $450,000 today.

Newspapers of her time noted her accomplishments. In 1889, the Evening Star, a newspaper in Washington, DC, said Beasley “made a small fortune out of the machine.” In 1901, another paper in Arkansas—the Arkansas Democrat—mentioned that the machine was rolling out 1,500 barrels per day.

Saving lives

But just like some of our other Go! inventors, Beasley was in the business of saving lives.

Beasley’s design for the life raft was patented in 1882, and patents like hers and others would save uncountable lives in the coming years.

Maria Beasley's 1882 life raft patent. Author Maria Beasley
Maria Beasley's 1882 life raft patent.
Author Maria Beasley

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, millions of immigrants filled ocean liners in promise of a better life. At the same time, passenger ships also catered to wealthy travelers by “providing extravagant spaces at sea on par with fine hotels and restaurants.”

One such ship was the RMS Titanic: a British passenger ship that set out to sea on April 15, 1912. During this first ever voyage—a trip from England to New York—the ship collided with an iceberg and subsequently sank into the Atlantic Ocean. With over 2,000 passengers and crew on board, over 1,000 of them were lost. Though the ship had too few lifeboats to begin with, the 20 lifeboats the ship did carry saved some 700 passengers.

Titanic at the docks in Southampton, England, April 1912. Photo from Wikipedia
Titanic at the docks in Southampton, England, April 1912.
Photo from Wikipedia

Wearing many hats

Maria Beasley also patented a stream generator in 1886. Her inventions regard her among some of the mothers and daughters of invention, landing her many spots on websites and blog lists that consider her an influential woman in the field, even today.

Maria Beasley's 1886 steam generator patent. Photo from Miami University Libraries
Maria Beasley's 1886 steam generator patent.
Photo from Miami University Libraries

It’s said that her inventions were “not merely profitable, but diverse,” including her foot warmer, baking and roasting pans, and her two patents for the life raft. By all standards, Beasley was considered a professional inventor.

All that said, if you want to make in impact in transportation, there may be something you can bring to the field—something unique to you—that could revolutionize the way things are done. For Beasley, it was about bringing her fantastic machine patents to the field. Today, there are other disciplines on the horizon—like artificial intelligence.

What could you bring to the world of transportation?

References

Related links

(Article) Celebrate Women’s History Month with 12 awesome things invented by women: www.upworthy.com/celebrate-womens-history-month-with-12-awesome-things-invented-by-women

(Article) 6 Female Inventors Who Made the World a Safer Place: blog.directgeneral.com/odds-ends/female-inventors-who-made-the-world-a-safer-place/

(Book) Maria Beasley and Life Rafts (21st Century Junior Library: Women Innovators): www.amazon.com/Maria-Beasley-Century-Junior-Library/dp/1634723112

By Hannah Postlethwait, Go! Staff Writer