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How The Henry Ford is celebrating female inventors during Women's History Month

Posted at 6:30 AM, Mar 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-08 11:32:35-05

All month long, we're celebrating women breaking glass ceilings and contributing to our society in major ways.

I went over to Dearborn to explore little-known facts about women inventors in the automotive industry.

Now most of the time when you hear of women in manufacturing in the early 1900s, Rosie the Riveter comes to mind. But when you come to the Ford Rouge Factory tour, you’re going to learn that women innovators were apart of the process, the entire time.

"We're actually going to pull this all the way back to 1914 and we're going to talk about a woman name Florence Lawrence, and is this her right here? It is her right here," Charles Foeller, the senior manager at the Ford Rouge Complex, said.

Florence Lawrence was a famous silent movie actress, appearing in hundreds of films. Lawrence is often considered Hollywood's first star. However, her ingenuity suprassed the screen.

"In 1914, she was able to purchase a car due to the wealth she had acquired, however she had one issue. At the time, turn-signaling would be hand out, hand up and that was kind of cumbersome, so she invented something new."

Lawrence is credited for inventing the turn signal and the brake light, sticking a pole out of the window to alert drivers to where she was going, and when she stopped.

"She created a sign so when hit the brakes it would flip up and say stop," Foeller said.

Lawrence never patented her ideas, but Mary Anderson did.

"She goes home and she hires a company to help her design a little metal pole with a rubber line on it, and through the windshield you can manually turn it back and forth and she creates our first wind shield wiper," Foeller said.

The scavenger hunt amplifies women's impact in the automotive industry for over a century.

"I think it’s great that we’re giving women recognition for some of the contributions that they’ve made," Karen Jeppson, who visited the museum, said.

Jeppson knows a thing or two about breaking the glass ceiling. She became a pharmacist in the 1970s when women made up only 10% of the field.

Her desire is for young girls to learn women in STEM have always been a contributing factor.

“I hope that they are inspired to do more and contribute more," Jeppson said.

The scavenger hunt will kick off this weekend and run every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until the end of the month.