The Inventive Mind

Beulah Henry was known as Lady Edison resulting from her many inventions.  She was the granddaughter of a former Governor of North Carolina and a descendant of President Benjamin Harrison.  She was very curious as a child and loved pointing out problems that she saw.  Her crankiness would often lead to ideas for inventions.

When Beulah was nine years old, she started making sketches for new products.  Over her inventing career, she followed the rule of drawing before inventing.  She used her sketches to think about the invention.

Beulah went to college but her degree was not what counted in her career.   At age 25 she earned her first patent – a vacuum ice cream freezer.  Since Beulah did not rely upon her college degree in her inventions, there was no specific technology that was the focus of her invention career.  When she was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame, her inventions were listed as Inventions for Daily Use.

Some of her most notable inventions included:

  • A parasol with snap-on cloth covers so women could color coordinate their parasol with their outfits
  • First bobbin-less sewing machine
  • A doll with eyes that would change colors
  • Hair curler
  • A protograph which allowed a typewriter to make four copies
  • A valve for inflatable objects
  • A can opener

Unlike other women inventors who rarely profited from their inventions, Beulah formed her own companies in many cases to produce her inventions.  When she didn’t create her own companies, she would license companies to manufacture her inventions and then serve as a consultant for those companies.  In many respects, Beulah was savvier about profiting from her inventions than was Thomas Edison.

What makes someone like Beulah so inventive?  Was it her curiosity and crankiness?  Certainly these played a role.  Her ability to translate her ideas to sketches was also critical.  The reality, however, is that anyone can become an inventor by focusing on a few principles:

  • Intensely focus on something that exists now and ask, “What can I do to make this bettter?”
  • Convert your crankiness into better ideas
  • Imagine how you could make an item more useful to others (e.g. different ages, those with physical impairments, gender/race differences).
  • Look at transferring or combining technologies to produce something new.

If you don’t think you can be an inventor, how often have you said: “Why didn’t I think of that?”

* * *

“I invent because I cannot help it – new things just thrust themselves on me.” – Beulah Henry

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.