Mary Walton was a 19th century American inventor who devised methods for minimising the effects of pollution caused by the industrial revolution. An independent inventor, she was very disturbed by the thick smoke emitted by the factories that had sprung up in escalating numbers during the industrial revolution. In addition, she lived near the railway tracks and found the noise pollution caused by the trains too much to bear. Refusing to be a mute spectator to the onslaught of pollution of different kinds, she worked in her basement to come up with methods of reducing the negative effects of rampant pollution. She patented a device that minimized the smoke emitted into the air—a smoke-burner that brought about an improvement in locomotive and other chimneys. She also devised a more environment-friendly system for the railways and later sold the rights to her noise-reducing method to the Metropolitan Railroad of New York City. This system was soon adopted by other railway companies as well. Her inventions earned her much national acclaim and she became one of the few women of her era who actually received the recognition and financial benefits for their scientific endeavours in an overwhelmingly male dominated society.
Childhood & Early Life
Not much is known about Mary Walton’s childhood or early life. From her own accounts it is known that she had no brothers; so her father—a progressive minded man—encouraged his daughters to get a good education and pursue their intellectual interests.
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Mary Walton lived in an era when the industrial revolution spawned a number of factories and manufacturing units in the country. The industries in the American society were thriving, but they also gave birth to a new problem: rampant pollution of an unprecedented scale.
An intelligent and creative woman, Mary Walton was an independent inventor. She was thoroughly disturbed by the thick smoke bellowing out of the locomotive and factory chimneys and worked hard to find a solution for this.
She developed a method of reducing the environmental hazards caused by the emission of smoke from locomotive, industrial and residential chimneys, and patented this method in 1879. It is believed her method considerably helped to bring down the dangers posed by the growing levels of pollution in the nation.
She lived near the railway tracks and found the deafening noise produced by trains as they hollered past her home to be particularly sickening. The elevated railway systems were rapidly expanding in New York City, and so were the rising levels of noise pollution.
She worked in her basement using a model railroad track and performed experiments on it to devise a method of reducing the noise caused by trains running over the tracks. Finally she was able to create a system that deadened the sound produced by the trains and had it patented in 1881.
Her sound-dampening system was so effective that she sold the rights to the Metropolitan Railroad for $10,000. Very soon, the system was adopted by other elevated railway companies as well.
In 1879, she patented a device that deflected the smoke and emissions from chimneys into water tanks, later flushing them out into the cities’ sewage system. This method helped to minimize the smoke that was emitted into the atmosphere.
Another of her major inventions helped to reduce the vibrations and noise pollution caused by trains running on the elevated railway systems that were becoming increasingly popular in New York City. This invention of hers earned her much recognition and financial gains.