Remembering Martha Coston, Woman Inventor
NEW YORK, Dec 15, 1997 -- For centuries, women have designed and built engines, manufacturing apparatus, and a variety of other machines and devices. National Engineers Week salutes the great women inventors of the 1800s and 1900s, and recognizes the role of todays women engineers in improving the quality of life for all Americans and all people.
E-Week presents the story of Martha Coston, who in 1871 was issued a patent for the pyrotechnic night signal. Costons husband had worked with flares for several years, but never refined the product and never managed to design a night signal that actually worked. When he died, he left behind some rough charts and outlines which served as a starting point for Martha Costons inventive genius.
By 1871, Coston received the patent for a pyrotechnic device that ignited when twisted. For the first time, people lost at sea could use signals to get assistance. Costons device, the precursor to the flare gun, generated much interest from the U.S. Navy, New York Chamber of Commerce, yacht clubs, and newspapers and magazines throughout the country.
Acutely aware of her non-traditional role as an inventor, Martha Coston wrote in her autobiography, "We hear much about chivalry of men toward women, but it vanishes like dew before the summer sun when one of us comes into competition with the manly sex." Martha Coston not only competed with the men of her day, she found professional and financial success.