March is National Women’s History month! To celebrate women’s history month, we will be diving into the manufacturing world and understanding the history behind it and how women have broken the “man’s world” stereotype.
Before WWII, women had no place in manufacturing, and it was not until the need for a workforce was dire that companies allowed women to enter the field. Research shows from 1940 to 1944, the percentage of women in manufacturing increased from 20 to 30 percent. Today, technology continues to change the processes for different sectors making manufacturing less laborious and more efficient. Tasks once only achievable by strong, highly skilled workers are now possible for everyone. According to Commerce, despite these technological changes, while women make up 47% of the workforce, they only make up 30% of the 15.8 million people in the industry.
The following women are just 5 of the many who have significantly impacted the industry.
1. Rosie the Riveter
Pictured on the famous “We Can Do It” propaganda of WWII, Rosie the Riveter was more of a cultural icon than a real person. Norman Rockwell created the image to show the strength and ability of women during WWII. Rosie the Riveter became a symbol of women’s power during WWII. The idea fueled the women workforce, encouraging them to break the traditional stay-at-home lifestyle and work in factories to support the war effort. Today, spin-offs of the image are utilized to represent the power and equality of women.
2. Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker is well known for being the first African American woman millionaire. She created a line of hair care products catered to African American women. The enterprise she built not only sold to women but also hired them. Maker’s Row states that many of her employees were women, and by 1917 the company had trained 20,000 women on how to run a business and become independent. Madam C.J. Walker used her wealth to fund scholarships and charities that helped women learn to be their own bosses.
3. Katharine Blodgett
Katharine Blodgett was a scientist and inventor who was the first woman to receive her Ph.D. in physics. According to Biography, she used her knowledge to support the military during World War II by researching gas masks and technology for de-icing airplane wings. She invented a non-reflective glass used in submarine periscopes during the war. Today, the glass is used in many products, including but not limited to eyeglasses and car windshields.
4. Stephanie Kwolek
Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar, a heat-resistant, strong fiber utilized in many items. According to Maker’s Row, Stephanie worked at a chemical company where she researched how to turn polymers into synthetic fibers. She worked with polymers that formed rows instead of random ones, which led to the creation of the thread in Kevlar that is as strong as steel. With this discovery, Kevlar is used in items today such as suspension bridges and helmets.
5. Margaret Knight
Margaret Knight, also known as “the lady Edison,” was one of the first women to receive a patent. She patented a machine utilized to cut, fold, and glue flat-bottomed paper shopping bags. Before her machine, individuals were performing the process by hand. According to Biography, Margaret received several patents for various inventions created to support manufacturing plants.
These are just five of the thousands of women who have impacted the manufacturing industry. Once viewed as a man’s world, manufacturing is now more suited than ever before for women. According to Commerce although women only make up 30% of the industry, 1 in 4 leaders in manufacturing are female. Commerce predicts American manufacturers will face a shortage of 2.4 million workers by 2028. There is no better time for women to join the industry than today and continue to change the course of the “man’s world” mentality.