Fun Transportation Fact #19

In March 1996, NASA astronaut Shannon Lucid visited the Russian Mir aboard the space shuttle Atlantis on its STS-76 mission. She was selected to perform a variety of science experiments before returning aboard Atlantis in September 1996 on the STS-79 mission. Lucid was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in December 1996 (for her mission to Mir), making her the first woman to receive that honor.


Source:, Shannon Lucid Bio (NASA)


Fun Transportation Fact #18

Transportation safety experts continually seek ways to optimize visibility for drivers, and it was a woman that began the research in the early 1900’s. Katherine Burr Blodgett was the first female scientist hired at General Electric’s research lab in Schenectady, New York, in 1917. It was here that she invented  “non-reflecting glass,” which allowed images to pass through glass without distortion or loss of light. Blodgett’s invention was initially used for eyeglasses, periscopes, telescopes, cameras, and microscopes. Since then, the concept has been used in many other ways, including a method that quickens the de-icing of airplane wings, greatly improving aviation safety.


Source: “Katharine Burr Blodgett (1898-1979), demonstrating equipment in lab. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Smithsonian Institution.

Fun Transportation Fact #17

Did you know women have been instrumental in developing the cars we drive today? Although Mary Anderson (mentioned in Fun Transportation Fact #3) invented the first car-window cleaning device, it was Charlotte Bridgewood that patented the electric windshield wiper in 1917. Charlotte’s design enabled the windshield wipers to use power from the car’s engine and operate on rubber rollers, rather than blades. Both Charlotte and Mary laid the groundwork for modern windshield wipers, which are vital in keeping drivers and passengers safe when driving in rain or snow.

Fun Transportation Fact #16

Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar, the first of a family of synthetic fibers of exceptional strength and stiffness, that has applications in tires, body armor, undersea optical-fiber cable, and bridge suspension. Her story starts at a time when female chemists were extremely rare, 1946. Dupont offered Stephanie Kwolek a temporary position at their facility, a job which she reportedly landed because a majority of male candidates were overseas at the time for World War II. She seized the opportunity. Kwolek and her group at Dupont began searching for a lightweight yet strong fiber to be used in tires because of the fears of a gasoline shortage in America. After nine years of working, she invented Kevlar. This material resisted corrosion and rust and was five times stronger than steel. Kevlar has been known to perform a variety of functions, including saving lives as lightweight body armor for police and the military, conveying messages across the ocean as a protector of undersea optical-fiber cable, and suspending bridges with super-strong ropes. Her publication, The Nylon Rope Trick, demonstrated a way of producing nylon in a beaker at room temperature. It is the basis of a common experiment that is still used today in many chemistry classes. Source: “Stephanie Kwolek”. Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Stephanie Kwolek. Courtesy DuPont.

Stephanie Kwolek. Courtesy DuPont.

“I don’t think there’s anything like saving someone’s life to bring you satisfaction and happiness.” ~ Stephanie Kwolek

Fun Transportation Fact #15

Remember when it was common to think women were not capable of changing a flat tire? Beatrice Shilling was doing more than that in the 1930’s. As a university-trained aeronautical engineer, she made her mark in the male dominated world of engineering by correcting a serious problem in the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine during the Second World War. Beatrice invented Miss Shilling’s orifice, a fix for fighter planes, which prevented engine flooding in a dive. Born in a time where there were very few female engineers, Beatrice Shilling was known to fight against any suggestion that as a woman she might be inferior to her male colleagues.

Beatrice Schilling

Fun Transportation Fact #14

Dr. Nancy Grace Roman was the first Chief of Astronomy in the Office of Space Science, and the first female to hold an executive position. Born on May 16, 1925, she lived in a time when there were formidable barriers on her way to becoming an astronomer, something she always aspired to be. As the child of a geophysicist she was encouraged to study science, but was often discouraged from pursuing a career in astronomy by people around her. However, due to her dedication and hard work, she was eventually approached by NASA in 1959 and offered a job developing orbital astronomy.

Nancy Grace Roman



Fun Transportation Fact #13

Everyone knows of Amelia Earhart and her aviation adventures because of her fame and notoriety. However, another strong woman was also making history and changes in the landscape of aviation in the 1930s and 1940s. Jacqueline Cochran was not only the first woman to compete in the Bendix race and to fly a bomber across the Atlantic, but she also worked with Amelia Earhart to open the race to women in 1937. She was called the “Speed Queen”—at the time of her death, no other pilot held more speed, distance, or altitude records in aviation history than Cochran. Jacqueline Cochran was a pioneer in the field of American aviation, considered to be one of the most gifted racing pilots of her generation. Source:  Jacqueline Cochran. (2014). The website:



“I have found adventure in flying, in world travel, in business, and even close at hand… Adventure is a state of mind – and spirit.”  ~ Jacqueline Cochran (May 11, 1906 – August 9, 1980)

j cochran


Fun Transportation Fact #12

In the late 1800’s, Emily Roebling became the surrogate Chief Engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the most important construction projects of the 19th century. Though this opportunity came by chance for Emily when her husband fell ill, she proved that women can be engineers as well. At the opening ceremonies for the bridge, Congressman Abram S. Hewitt praised Emily Roebling for her role in the construction of the bridge. Source:

emily roebling

Fun Transportation Fact #11

Did you know, before Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Mary Barra of General Motors were “leaning in,” Rebecca Lukens was making history as America’s first female CEO of an industrial company in the 1800’s? Rebecca Lukens (1794–1854) was a remarkable American businesswoman and entrepreneur. The steel plate manufactured in her company was used to construct the first metal hulled steamboat in America, and later used as boilerplate in steam engines and locomotives.  Rebecca Lukens took over her late husband’s iron mill in 1825. Lukens Steel still thrives today, a true testament of the abilities of Rebecca Lukens, a Pioneering Woman CEO. Source: Charles Lukens Huston papers at Hagley Museum and Library.

Rebecca Webb Pennock Lukens

Rebecca Webb Pennock Lukens

Fun Transportation Fact #10

Many Americans know that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983. However, it was Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova from Russia, 20 years earlier, to become the first woman in the world to have flown in space.  Tereshkova became interested in parachuting from a young age, and trained in skydiving at the local Aeroclub. It was her expertise in skydiving that led to her selection as a cosmonaut, beating out more than four hundred applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963.  Tereshkova orbited the earth 48 times and spent almost three days in space. Tereshkova went on to graduate from the Zhuykosky Air Force Engineering Academy in 1969, and in 1976, earned a degree in Technical Science. source:

“If women can be railroad workers in Russia, why can’t they fly in space?” ~ Valentina Tereshkova


 Fun Transportation Fact #9

Olive Dennis  was the first female member of the American Railway Engineering Association and she was the second woman to graduate from Cornell University with a degree in civil engineering–plus she held a master’s degree in math and astronomy from Columbia University. It was a challenge for her to find work as an engineer because she was a woman, but she found work as a draftsman at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) in 1920. Dennis was later designated as the engineer of service to improve passenger service. She received several patents in this role.  source: National Academy of Engineering.

Fun Transportation Fact #8

Helen Schultz founded the first woman-owned bus line, Red Ball Transportation Company—despite protests by railroad corporations—in 1922. What began as a line with two round trips daily between Charles City and Waterloo, Iowa, gradually built up to a passenger clientele of primarily women shoppers and traveling salesmen.  Schultz capitalized on her newsworthy image as a young woman who fought the mighty railroad corporations. The Des Moines Register named Schultz the “Iowa Bus Queen.” She sold the company in June of 1930 for $200,000 and retired.  source: FHWA




Fun Transportation Fact #7

In 1983, Elizabeth Hanford Dole was appointed the US Secretary of Transportation and became the first woman to head a branch of the armed forces because the Coast Guard falls under the DOT during times of peace, and she also became the seventh woman to serve in the cabinet. She was instrumental in mandating rear-window brake lights and encouraging states to pass laws requiring the use of seat belts. As one of the few women in a top-level administration job she was an advocate for public safety and aided in the advancement of women within the department.  source: FHWA

Fun Transportation Fact #6 

World War II marked a significant and lasting change in the role of women in transportation and the labor force. In addition to entering the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, women commandeered streetcars, buses, cranes, and operated machinery. With the famous national campaign that urged women to support the war effort, “Rosie the Riveter” became the symbol of working women.

Fun Transportation Fact #5

Elsie MacGill was the first Canadian woman to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering, the first woman in North America to earn an advanced degree in aeronautics, and the world’s first female aircraft designer. Aviation pioneer MacGill also had a pivotal role in the design and production of the Hawker Hurricane in Canada during the Second World War, earning her the title, “Queen of the Hurricanes.”

Elsie MacGill, world’s first female aircraft designer.

Fun Transportation Fact #4

In 1911, Harriet Quimby became the first woman pilot, eight years after Orville and Wilbur Wright went airborne in a motorized plane (1903). In 1921, Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman pilot. (The most famous early woman aviator, Amelia Earhart, piloted across the Atlantic in 1932.)

Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman pilot (1921).

Fun Transportation Fact #3

In 1903, Mary Anderson invented a windshield wiper to improve safety while driving in rain, sleet, and snow. By 1923, more than 175 patents were granted to women for inventions related to automobiles, traffic signals, and turn indicators.*

Fun Transportation Fact #2

In 1859, Martha J. Coston developed a maritime navigation system using pyrotechnics. These burning flares assisted the U.S. Navy and the navies of many European countries to communicate with and rescue shipwreck victims.*

Fun Transportation Fact #1

Elizabeth Bragg Cumming was the first woman in the United States to receive a civil engineering degree. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeleyin 1876.

* From the US DOT, Federal Highway Administration.