7 women who changed the automotive world

Ford Motor Company

The automotive industry has advanced thanks to the input of literally countless engineers, inventors, designers, and drivers. We as the end users rarely get to know who exactly came up with which systems and parts we treasure and love today.

There are hundreds of unsung heroes in the automotive world. In honor of Women’s History Month, we rounded up this list—a handful of the women who helped make today’s cars so practical and so enjoyable.

In the early days of automotive innovation, societal pressures and professional norms prevented most women from getting involved. Thankfully, most of those barriers have fallen, though their effects are still felt: Many of the early contributions of women to the auto industry either went unrecognized or unappreciated for decades.

Here’s to seven of them who changed the automotive world.

Florence Lawrence

Florence Lawrence in Lozier automobile women automotive car advancement invention

A silent film star, Florence Lawrence understood the need for unspoken communication. She also knew communication needed to happen between cars in order to not have chaos on the roads.

Not only was transportation via horse and buggy fairly slow, horses’ self-preservation instincts helped keep accidents to a minimum. Once road awareness was left to absent-minded humans, the need for telegraphing an intention to stop or change direction became very apparent.

Lawrence was the pioneer of turn and brake signals. She designed bumper-mounted flags and a sign that read “stop,” which appeared when the brake pedal was pressed. She never patented her idea, but a century later it is still critical to transportation.

June McCarroll

While driving her 1917 Ford Model T, June McCarroll swung wide around a corner and was suddenly grille to grille with a large truck. After taking evasive action and stuffing her Ford into the sandy ditch, a bright idea hit her: A simple stripe down the center of the road, so that drivers knew where to expect each other to be.

She lobbied California legislators via a letter-writing campaign and in 1924 a law was passed that made lane delineation standard. The idea quickly caught on in the rest of the country.

Mary Anderson

Mary Anderson windshield wiper patent drawing
US Patent Office

Inventing something takes vision, but it was a lack of clear sight during a trolley ride in 1903 that prompted Mary Anderson to create the windshield wiper. She observed the driver of the street car repeatedly stop the vehicle, get out, and wipe the windshield in order to see where they were going. It prompted her to invent and patent a hand-operated windshield wiper.

She worked to sell the patent, but there were no takers until after the patent expired. She never saw any money for what became a crucial safety feature on every car produced. She was even inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2011.

Margaret Wilcox

Early automobiles were highly focused on function with little attention to comfort. It was Margaret Wilcox who thought to harness the heat that came as a byproduct of an internal-combustion engine and use it to make the passenger compartment more comfortable. Some version of a heater or climate-control system has been optional or standard on cars for over a century now, and few modern drivers tolerate its absence.

Wilcox also patented a machine that could wash both clothes and dishes at the same time. It didn’t catch on like the car heater.

Bertha Benz

Bertha Benz in 1870
Bertha Benz in 1870 Daimler AG

The automobile is widely accepted as a functional object these days, but there was a time when self-propulsion carriages were simply novelties. Most thought they would never catch on.

Arguably, it was Berth Benz who proved these naysayers wrong.

She borrowed—some could argue stole—her husband Karl’s latest invention and drove the three-wheeled Patent Motorwagen on a roughly 110-mile round trip journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim. Her trip proved the horseless carriage could get the job done, and she thus helped to lay the path for a revolution in transportation.

Mimi Vandermolen

Ford Motor Company

Fast forward many decades from Bertha Benz, and you will still find women altering the landscape of design and function. Mimi Vandermolen was a part of the Ford design studio in the early 1970s but was laid off during the oil crisis. She returned to the Blue Oval in 1977 and was instrumental in creating the interior of the then-new Ford Taurus.

Her contributions are litany of things we now take for granted: ergonomic seats, rotary dials for climate control within easy reach of the driver, and a digital display that functions as the instrument cluster.

No matter what you drive today, there are aspects of its interior that can be traced to the Taurus, and to Vandermolen.

Stephanie Kwolek

The average car is comprised of 30,000 parts, but none are as important as the tires. In 1964, Kwolek was working in the DuPont textile lab searching for a way to reinforce radial tires. The result of her manipulation of strands of carbon-based molecules to make larger molecules (polymers) was Kevlar, which is now a staple of performance tires to reinforce the bead and circumference. Kevlar has also had a lasting impact outside the automotive world, in the construction of bulletproof vests.


This is just a selection of the contributions and innovations that women have brought to the automotive world. Our cars would not be the objects we love and enjoy today without these women, and for that we thank them.


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    You forgot Elena Ford!
    She did such a ‘great job’….. and ended up killing the Mercury Division.

    And you can’t forget Sabine Schmitz, the Queen of the Ring. Awesome driver, and wonderful person.Rest in peace .

    And you can’t forget Sabine Schmitz, the Queen of the Ring. Awesome driver, and wonderful person.Rest in peace .

    Alice Ramsey was 22 years old in 1909 when she made history, becoming the first woman to drive across the United States from coast-to-coast. She, along with two sisters-in-law and a friend, left New York City on June 9 and arrived in San Francisco on August 7.

    Bertha Benz was also a engineer and inventor. Most likely the first car would have never left the shed if it were not for her.


    It seems to me there are some people who have some negative things to say about Danica. Let me ask a question, how long do think you would last on a track with twenty nine drivers who want to win as badly as you do going 190 MPH. That being said it is a really great article and,yes there are a lot more woman that have influenced the automobile industry.

    99 percent of men don’t have the balls to do what Danica has done so they should keep their traps shut until they can.

    I can answer that question for you. Not one of the naysayers could do what Danika has. Little bit of hurt male ego’s would be my opinion 🙂

    Here is one that most Hagerty members will have in their garage. Alice Anderson invented a device she called the Get Out and Get Under. Not a catchy title, but she couldn’t afford the international patent. A visitor saw this and returned home, rebranded it as the Creeper and sold millions.

    Great story! Thanks for writing it and for continuing to educate through historically significant auto development. Much appreciated.

    You are a bit off on the center stripe in the road. Edward Hines of the Wayne county Michigan road commission first striped a centerline in 1911 and soon after began striping all county roads as well as the practice spreading throughout Michigan. That would be well before Ms. McCarroll crashed her 1917 Ford and CA made it law in 1924

    Kyle did say seven women as his story title, but clearly there are many, many more. Maybe for next years Celebrating Women’s Month, a few stories could be done about the various areas of collective, and women’s roles in each.

    I don’t know how much she really changed the automotive world, but Pat Moss and her Austin-Healey rally racing came to mind when I read the headline for some reason.

    As a woman 26 years in the car business, I thank you for this article. But what about Louise Piech, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche s daughter?

    I know Studebaker had women pick interior patterns and cloths used to make the Lark more appealing to women. I remember seeing Arlene Francis wore a dress made from a Lark seat cloth plaid pattern.

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