Beulah Louise Henry was an American inventor nicknamed "Lady Edison" for her many inventions. A very prolific inventor, she had around 110 inventions in total though she held the patent for just around 49 during her lifetime. The first of her numerous patents was for a vacuum ice cream freezer in 1912. Soon other successful inventions followed and before long she gained the reputation of being one of the most prolific inventors of her era. Born into a family known for its artistic inclination, she inherited her creativity from her parents. From a young age she loved to tinker with things and create newer objects with practical utility. Originally from North Carolina, she moved to New York City following the early successes of her inventions. One of her most popular early inventions was an umbrella with a snap-on cloth cover that allowed the owner to coordinate the umbrella with clothing. The umbrella was much loved by the people and led to her appearance in ‘Scientific American’ as one of their "Outstanding Inventors". She established two companies of her own where she worked on her inventions and also worked for the Nicholas Machine Works and served as a consultant to several companies that manufactured new items. She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.
Childhood & Early Life
Beulah Louise Henry was born on February 11, 1887, in North Carolina, as the daughter of Walter R. and Beulah Henry. Both her parents were artistically inclined: her father was an authority on art while her mother was an artist. She was a direct descendant of Patrick Henry, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
It is believed that Beulah had mild Synesthesia, a condition where the mind will assign sensory attributes to other senses, for instance associating colors to sounds. This is a condition often found in artistic and creative people.
Bright and inventive, she started tinkering with things as a young child and loved to create new objects.
She studied at the North Carolina Presbyterian College from 1909 to 1912.
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It is said that she began inventing as a child but it was only when she was in her mid-twenties that she first applied for a patent. Her first one, in 1912, was for a vacuum ice cream freezer. Two other patents followed in quick succession the next year: one for a hand bag and the other for an umbrella.
The umbrella was a major early invention; it came with snap-on detachable cloth covers in a variety of colors. Following the success of her early inventions, she moved to New York City in 1919 where she found a huge market for her umbrellas.
In New York City, she lived in hotel apartments and continued designing newer inventions. The rights to her popular umbrella cover invention sold for $50,000 which enabled her to set up her own laboratory. She appointed mechanics, model makers, and draftsmen to turn her ideas into prototypes.
She founded two companies: the Henry Umbrella and Parasol Company, and the B. L. Henry Company of New York. Throughout the 1920s, she was awarded many new patents including the ones for a spring-limbed doll and sponges that held soap in the middle. She also designed the machine that produced the sponges.
She eventually turned her attention towards machines and made many improvements to sewing machines and typewriters during the 1930s and 1940s. The patents she received in this period include the ones for a double-chain stitch sewing machine, a feeding and aligning device for typewriters, a bobbin-less sewing machine, number of children´s toys, and another typewriter attachment for duplicating documents.
By the late 1930s she had earned the nickname of "Lady Edison" and was a very famous woman inventor. In 1939 she began working for the Nicholas Machine Works as an inventor, a position she held till 1955. She also served as a consultant for many companies like the Mergenthaler Linotype Company and the International Doll Company.
Among her several popular inventions was an umbrella with a variety of different colored snap-on cloth covers which she patented in1924. The users of the umbrella could co-ordinate the color of the umbrella cover with their clothing. The product was a huge success and helped her earn considerable wealth with which she could establish her own laboratory.
Awards & Achievements
Beulah Louise Henry was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.
Personal Life & Legacy
Beulah Louise Henry never married. She had a wide variety of interests including writing and painting. She was also active in the Audubon Society, the League for Animals, and the Museum of Natural History.
She lived an active life till the very end and died in 1973.