Design Object Series N. 006

Marion Donovan and the Disposable Diaper

In our Design Object Series we highlight iconic objects designed by women. Thousands of objects that you use and appreciate everyday…surprise! Women designed them! Many of the contributions of women to design have been obscured if not erased throughout history. We want to do our part to counteract this effect by celebrating the women behind a range of objects that you’re sure to recognize. In this issue we salute Marion Donovan. Donovan’s determination and ingenuity led her to revolutionize the infant care industry with her most significant invention—the disposable diaper. 

Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1917, Marion O’Brien grew up immersed in a world of machinery and invention. Her mother passed away when she was seven, leaving her with her father, an engineer and inventor. She moved east for college and eventually married James Donovan, settling down in Westport, Connecticut to raise a family. 

In the 1940s cloth diapers were standard, often covered in rubber pants. Donovan was dissatisfied with the system. She was endlessly changing wet crib sheets, and the rubber pants caused rashes. In 1946 she developed her own reusable, leak-proof diaper cover, sewing it at home out of shower curtains. Instead of safety pins, her design used metal snaps. This design, called the “Boater,” led to a version made with nylon parachute cloth with place to insert an absorbent diaper panel. 

Innovating on Innovation

In 1949, the diaper covers made their grand debut at New York’s prestigious Saks Fifth Avenue, where they were an immediate hit. In 1951, Marion Donovan’s patent for the diaper cover was granted. Despite her invention’s success, she didn’t stop there. Donovan embarked on an even more significant innovation—the disposable paper diaper. Designing such a diaper proved to be a challenge. The material needed to efficiently wick moisture away from the baby’s skin to prevent rashes, not just absorb and retain it.

After much experimentation, she developed a composition of sturdy, absorbent paper that met the demanding requirements of a diaper. The pioneering idea faced rejection from major U.S. paper companies, who dismissed it as unnecessary and impractical. It would be ten years before Victor Mills, the creator of Pampers, seized upon her idea and brought disposable diapers to the mass market.

Marion Donovan's "Diaper Wrap," patent illlustration
Marion Donovan’s “Diaper Wrap,” patented June 12, 1951. U.S. Patent 2,556,800

Marion Donovan’s creative genius extended beyond her groundbreaking diaper inventions. Throughout her career, she accumulated over a dozen patents and worked as a product development consultant. Like so many other women design pioneers, it wasn’t until her passing in 1998 that she received the recognition she deserved. Although Marion Donovan’s name may not be instantly recognizable, parents worldwide owe her a debt of gratitude for the convenience and comfort her inventions have brought to their lives. Donovan’s journey as an inventor demonstrates the power of persistence and the ability of design to challenge societal norms. 

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Networking, Resilience, and Balance

Lessons from Successful Women Design Entrepreneurs

From designing products that we use every day to crafting the tools we need to live a more sustainable life; industrial design is all around us. While this field has traditionally been male-dominated, women are shaking things up and making a name for themselves in the industry. In fact, some of the most innovative and exciting industrial design studios today are run by women! So, grab your sketchbook and let’s take a closer look at some of the badass women who have started their own industrial design studios. Get ready to be inspired!

The Whys

One of the things that I am curious about is how and why so many women have opened their own practice. I asked a group of successful women design entrepreneurs about what led them to open their own studios.

For Isis Shiffer, founder and design lead, Spitfire Industry in Brooklyn, NY, her love for working with diverse clients and teams from various disciplines was likely a strong motivator for her to start her own studio. By owning her own business, she could have greater control over the types of projects she takes on and the clients she works with. This can be important for individuals who have a passion for a specific type of work or working with certain types of people.

On the other hand, the founder and creative director of Level Design in San Francisco, Nichole Roulliac, had the desire to lead her own studio and bring a new energy and perspective to the design industry that highlights the importance of representation and diversity in the workplace. ‘As a female founder, I saw firsthand how important it was to create a space that not only celebrated diversity but actively sought it out. I wanted to build a company that valued diverse perspectives and ideas, and that actively sought to create a more inclusive industry,’ said Roulliac. This aligns with a larger trend of women starting their own businesses to create more opportunities for themselves and to challenge traditional gender roles and expectations. Both designers recognized the need for a fresh perspective and decided to take the leap to become design entrepreneurs.

Jennifer Linnane’s experience as a successful solo-preneur and industrial designer highlights the benefits of being a freelancer, such as the flexibility to work on a variety of interesting projects and to build a successful business around one’s unique skills. This flexibility and independence can be appealing for many individuals who want to take control of their career and work on projects that align with their values and goals.

The Challenges

However, running a consulting practice or starting a business also comes with its own set of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is finding and securing clients, which often requires developing new skills such as networking, branding, and communicating effectively with clients. As Brittany Gene of Brittany Gene Design points out, scoping projects and learning how to communicate and contract with clients is crucial for success.

Building a strong network of fellow industrial designers and professionals outside of the design industry can also be an important factor in building a successful practice. This can help to provide support, advice, and potential referrals for new projects. It’s important for entrepreneurs to continuously develop new skills and maintain connections with others in their industry to stay up to date with the latest trends and techniques and to keep their business growing.

Overall, while becoming a design entrepreneur can offer many opportunities, it also requires hard work, dedication, consistent and clear communication skills and a willingness to continuously learn and adapt to new challenges.

Jennifer Linnane emphasizes the importance of confidence when it comes to freelancing, as you are essentially presenting yourself as an expert in your field highlighting your ability to partner with your client to deliver results. Additionally, resilience is necessary because not every day will go as planned. This highlights the need for adaptability and the ability to handle challenges and setbacks to succeed as a freelancer or design entrepreneur.

As the founder and principal of Interwoven Design Group, I have found that balancing innovation with practical business requirements and deadlines can be a challenge. Jen Linnane, who shares similar beliefs, argues that innovation and creativity can sometimes conflict with predictability, which is necessary for meeting business requirements, budgets, and deadlines. As a design entrepreneur, having both strong design skills and business acumen is essential for success. Achieving a balance between these two areas is crucial for running a thriving firm.

In summary, while becoming a design entrepreneur can offer many opportunities, it also requires hard work, dedication, consistent and clear communication skills, and a willingness to continuously learn and adapt to a new challenges. Freelancers and design entrepreneurs alike need confidence and resilience, and finding a balance between innovation and practical business requirements is essential for success.

The Hows

When doing researching for this article, the most common question asked by people who want to open their own firm ask is how to find new clients. The top answer from successful design entrepreneurs was networking. Isia Shiffer explains that 80% of her clients come from word of mouth and repeat business. Jeanette Numbers emphasizes the importance of building authentic connections with people to foster good business relationships and ultimately good projects and Nichole Roulliac expands her network by asking her contacts to connect her with their contacts. Most of the women entrepreneurs I spoke with spend on average 10-12 hours per week expanding their networks and fielding requests for info and proposals.

If you’re considering starting your own practice, this group has some great advice. Jeanette Numbers suggests surrounding yourself with a strong team and having faith in your team members. Brittany Gene advises investing in yourself and the tools you use every day. Nichole Roulliac stresses the importance of perseverance and staying true to yourself. Additionally, having a unique point of view and asking the “whys” rather than just the “hows” is important, according to Numbers.

However, even with a great support network and the right tools, burnout is a common issue among entrepreneurs. Isis Shiffer reminds us that it’s important to take breaks to recharge our brains, and Nichole Roulliac suggests being part of a strong network of allies who can support each other during difficult times.

Jeanette Numbers says “surround yourself with a strong team, have faith in your team members and Keep moving forward”.  Brittany Gene adds “invest in yourself and the tools you use every day. It’s so easy to pick a cheaper option when buying tools but it can be the costliest in the long run.”  supporting this adds Roulliac is to have perseverance and staying true to yourself.  And Numbers goes on to say it’s important to have a unique point of view and strong perseverance, that she thrives on asking the whys, not just the how’s. 

But even with setting up a great support network and investing in the right tools and equipment Shiffer adds that “Burnout is common, real, and avoidable.  A lot of entrepreneurs have the sense that if they aren’t always working, they’re somehow failing, but this isn’t the case at all. You need to let your brain recharge to be good at any job.”

Roulliac, “Industrial design is a rollercoaster. Like any service industry, from hospitality to retail, there will be a huge, overwhelming rush of work – then a silence while you await the next storm.” “One thing that will help you through is being part of a strong, genuine network of allies who can support one another when times are tough”

Your Future Awaits

So there you have it, folks! From Brooklyn, NY to San Francisco and places in between, these badass women are changing the game in industrial design. They’re not only creating innovative products and solutions, but they’re also challenging the traditional gender roles and expectations in the industry.

Whether you’re thinking of starting your own design studio or just looking to learn more about industrial design, take some inspiration from these women. Remember to network, invest in yourself and your tools, stay true to your unique point of view, and don’t forget to take breaks to recharge!

Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be reading about your success story and how you’ve helped to transform the world of industrial design. So grab your sketchbook, put on some tunes, and let’s get to work!

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Design Object Series N. 005

Hedy Lamarr and Wi-Fi

In our Design Object Series we highlight iconic objects designed by women. Thousands of objects that you use and appreciate everyday…surprise! Women designed them! Many of the contributions of women to design have been obscured if not erased throughout history. We want to do our part to counteract this effect by celebrating the women behind a range of objects that you’re sure to recognize. In this issue we salute Hedy Lamarr, a Hollywood star who possessed a brilliant mind that defied societal expectations. She developed the spread-spectrum radio technology that would later make wireless systems possible.

At the height of her Hollywood career, Hedy Lamarr was celebrated as “the most beautiful woman in the world.” However, her true legacy extends far beyond her looks. In the 1940s, amidst the chaos of World War II, Lamarr quietly invented a groundbreaking technology that would lay the foundation for numerous wireless innovations we rely on today, including Bluetooth, GPS, and cellphone networks.

18 DO 2023 - Wifi
18 DO 2023 – Wifi

An Inventor is Born

Lamarr, born Hedwig Kiesler in Austria, harbored a lifelong fascination with science. When the war approached she fled Austria as well as her marriage to a wealthy arms dealer. She arranged to be on the same ship as Louis Mayer of Metro-Goldwin-Mayer (MGM), and convinced him to offer her a contract. She rose to stardom quickly but the war effort was never far from her mind. 

Though widely admired, the Hollywood lifestyle failed to satisfy Lamarr’s intellectual curiosity. Once her responsibilities on set were complete, she engaged in intellectual pursuits and enjoyed gatherings with like-minded friends. Lamarr possessed a visionary mindset, constantly exploring ways to fix and enhance various aspects of the world. She installed a drafting table in her home, dedicating her spare time to inventing.

Photo: Wyld Networks

Doing Her Part

At a Hollywood dinner party she met composer George Antheil, who was then working on an unconventional symphony featuring synchronized player pianos. Lamarr wondered, if one could get these pianos to continuously synchronize in unpredictable patterns, why couldn’t the same be done for radio signals? During World War II, Lamarr’s concerns about the safety of Allied forces deepened. The attacks by German submarines on passenger cruise liners compelled her to channel her inventive energy toward devising a solution. She focused her attention on the shortcomings of torpedoes, powerful weapons that often lacked accuracy as their guidance systems could be jammed.

Lamarr recognized that for a torpedo’s guidance to be effective, the radio signal guiding it had to be immune to enemy interference. Inspired by Antheil’s synchronized pianos, Lamarr developed the concept of “frequency hopping.” She envisioned a system in which the radio signal would rapidly and randomly hop across various frequencies, making it difficult for adversaries to jam or intercept. Together, Lamarr and Antheil submitted their proposal for a “Secret Communication System” to the National Inventors Council. In 1942, they were awarded a patent for their invention. Though the idea was deemed viable, the U.S. Navy ultimately dismissed the potential of the technology and it was dormant for several years in their archives.

Belated Acknowledgement of Achievement

It wasn’t until after the war that Lamarr’s technology resurfaced. The Navy recognized the need to safeguard their sonobuoy systems, which used sonar to detect submarines and transmit the information to airplanes. To prevent enemy forces from jamming the communication between the buoys and the planes, they needed an effective countermeasure. Lamarr’s frequency-hopping technology proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle. The Navy integrated her invention into the sonobuoys, effectively creating a jam-proof communication system. From there, the significance of Lamarr’s contribution began to gain traction, and offshoots of her technology found a wide range of military and civilian applications.

Today, the impact of Lamarr’s invention is evident in the ubiquitous presence of wireless communication technologies. Her visionary frequency-hopping concept facilitated the development of modern wireless networks. Yet, for many years, Lamarr’s tremendous contributions were overshadowed and undervalued. It wasn’t until the 1990s, when Lamarr was in her early 80s, that her critical invention gained the recognition it deserved. A pioneer in wireless communications for computers stumbled upon Lamarr’s patent and was astounded by its significance. He initiated efforts to acknowledge her achievement. When informed of the award, her response was, “Well, it’s about time.” 

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Design Object Series N. 004

The Shell Chair, Oneida Flatware + the Dishwasher

In our Design Object Series we highlight iconic objects designed by women. Thousands of objects that you use and appreciate everyday…surprise! Women designed them! Many of the contributions of women to design have been obscured if not erased throughout history. We want to do our part to counteract this effect by celebrating the women behind a range of objects that you’re sure to recognize. In this issue we salute three design objects that have revolutionized how we live in our homes; critical tools that were designed to be affordable and to make our daily lives easier. We’ll share the story of the Shell chair, designed by Ray Eames, Oneida Flatware, designed by Ellen Manderfield for decades, and the precursor to the modern day dishwasher, designed by Josephine Cochrane.

The Shell Chair

The shell chair is an iconic design form, recognized not only by industry professionals but by non-designers as well. The chair is really a chair system, and a powerful example of modular design. A series of chair bodies and bases can be mixed and matched to suit a range of uses, from bar stools and task chairs to outdoor and lounge chairs. The ergonomic, carefully plotted curves make it comfortable for a wide range of users. Diverse material and upholstery options create still more options for customization, creating over 2 million possible combinations. 

Designed in 1948, the chair eventually became the world’s first mass-produced plastic chair. Initially, though, it was created in fiberglass, designed by renaissance designer Ray Eames and her equally multi-disciplinary designer husband, Charles Eames. During World War II the team worked on strategies for bending plywood to create light, ergonomic leg splints for injured soldiers. After the war they kept playing with the technique, creating furniture concepts with the new manufacturing method. They experimented further, working on chair shapes in steel, which was low cost but rusted over time. They collaborated with a boat-builder to create prototypes in fiberglass, a hazardous material to handle but sleek and colorful. In the years after introducing the fiberglass model they created bent wire options and switched from fiberglass to polypropylene, then a brand new material. Because they could be mass-produced the chairs were affordable to produce and to purchase, and aligned with the goal of the Eames to create ‘design for everyone’.

The thoughtful curves of the shell chair make it comfortable for a wide range of users. Image courtesy of Miss Anthropology.

Today the 1948 design is offered in polypropylene as well as polyester resin reinforced with glass fiber. The shell chair serves as a perfect representation of the clean simplicity and versatile functionality that the Eames became known for as a design team. The significance of the design is proven by its inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection in New York.

Oneida Flatware

Sitting down to dinner in your shell chair is great, though you won’t get far without flatware. The utopian Oneida Community in Oneida, NY began producing silver flatware and hollowware (hollow and concave objects made of silver) in 1899, becoming Onieda Ltd. in 1935. While the company had been designing flatware for decades before Ellen Manderfield came on board in 1956, no designer before her had designed so many designs, nor so many successful ones. Manderfield designed over 200 stainless steel and silver flatware patterns for Onieda, retiring in 1986 as a Senior Industrial Designer. 

By the 1980s Oneida manufactured over half of US flatware, and the brand is still one we recognize and can purchase today. They are known for practical and affordable flatware in an astonishing array of patterns ranging from sleek and contemporary to traditional and ornate, hundreds of which were designed by Ellen Manderfield. Several of those won accolades and design awards in addition to becoming best-selling patterns. Her ‘Omni’ line, created in 1979, was chosen for MoMA’s Design Study Collection. Her 1956 ‘Evening Star’ line was chosen for use in American Airlines’ first class in-flight service.

Manderfield had a rigorous process for creating these patterns. She would develop over 20 versions of a single teaspoon to get the balance and form just right. A 250% scale model was developed in clay and then in plaster to create the incredible details of the swirling, baroque patterns Oneida was known for. The tooling for the master molds was made with these oversized models. 

An early promotional image from the Oneida Community. Image courtesy of Silver Season.

Ellen Manderfield was the first woman to be accepted into the Industrial Design Society of America (then the American Society of Industrial Designers) in 1957. While she is best-known for her work at Oneida, she had worked in industrial design for years before transitioning there, designing packaging and graphics at Meyercord Company, televisions and radios at Sylvania Electric, household goods and appliances at Ann Swainson’s Bureau of Design, and radio and television cabinets at General Electric. She was ambitious and seemingly indefatigable. Even at Oneida, as she churned out hundreds of flatware patterns, she developed jewelry and metal sculptures over her lunch break, and went home to do weaving and painting. Her dedicated renaissance approach makes her an incredible industrial design role model.

The Dishwasher

For many the dishwasher is a critical home appliance, preventing hundreds of hours of manual washing that, while meditative for some, is tedious and time-consuming for most. Those of us who benefit from this kitchen staple owe our gratitude to Josephine Cochrane, a socialite in Ohio in the late 1800s who tired of her fine china being damaged by hand-washing. 

Cochrane and her husband enjoyed entertaining, and she was accustomed to servants doing most of her housework. She realized that her fine china was often chipped when scrubbed by hand, and when she tried doing the dishes herself she discovered how tiresome and labor intensive the process was. She was determined to create a more efficient strategy for safely cleaning her china, and proceeded to work on a design that used strong jets of water to clean dishes suspended in a rack. After beginning the work her husband passed away and left her with debt that spurred her to create a machine that would be a success. While other dish washing machines had been invented, none were commercially viable and therefore none were available to her to purchase. She was sure she could create a functional solution. 

The 1886 patent for Josephine Cochrane’s “Dish Washing Machine”. Image via the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The design process Cochrane followed looked much like the process of a contemporary industrial designer. She measured her plates and cups and developed compartments that would hold them safely. A motor powered wheel spun inside a copper boiler and forced hot, soapy water up around the dishes. She patented her design as the “Cochrane Dishwasher” in 1886 and began selling to industrial clients like restaurants and hotels. While developed to help with residential housework, the houses at the time weren’t ready to support the appliance. Small hot water heaters couldn’t provide the necessary volume of hot water and, at the time, hand-washing dishes was considered a pleasant chore by many. 

The dishwasher wasn’t widely adopted until the 1950s when several cultural forces came together to make Cochrane’s dishwasher the perfect fit: women’s attitudes toward housework were shifting as they joined the workforce, technology improved to support the appliance, and dishwashing detergent improved. Cochrane’s company eventually became another company you probably recognize: KitchenAid. The first dishwasher available from KitchenAid was released in 1949, and was based on Cochrane’s patent, the ancestor of the modern dishwasher.

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Design Object Series N. 003

The OXO Peeler, the Paper Coffee Filter + the Foot-pedal Trash Can

In our Design Object Series we highlight iconic objects designed by women. Thousands of objects that you use and appreciate everyday…surprise! Women designed them! Many of the contributions of women to design have been obscured if not erased throughout history. We want to do our part to counteract this effect by celebrating the women behind a range of objects that you’re sure to recognize. In this issue we salute three women and three designs that have improved our daily lives in the kitchen: Patricia Moore and the universal design principles she applied to the OXO Good Grips Peeler, Melitta Benz and the paper coffee filters that revolutionized the coffee experience, and Lillian Moller Gilbreth and the incredible motion studies that led to the foot-pedal trash can.

The OXO Good Grips peeler

The OXO Good Grips peeler is a best-selling kitchen tool, with over 40,000 reviews on Amazon and millions of units sold. It is also an important case study in universal design and product ergonomics that revolutionized how everyday objects were developed. The design was developed by SmArt Design in conjunction with gerontologist and industrial designer Patricia Moore, one of the founders of universal design. Universal design is the process of creating objects and services that are accessible by all, independent of age, physical size, mobility, ability, and any number of factors. More often than speaking of it as a distinct discipline, we speak of designs that adhere to universal design principles. 

The OXO Good Grips peeler has an incredible history, of which this is just a taste. Serial entrepreneur Sam Farber was cooking with his wife Betsey in the south of France, and Betsey, who had mild arthritis, was having a difficult time using a vegetable peeler. Couldn’t Sam do something about this? Kitchen tools hadn’t been taken seriously on the market, and a ‘nicer’ kitchen tool typically just meant a tool that was made with more expensive materials, not one that offered superior performance. Sam reached out to SmArt design, a company he had worked with before for his range of Copco kitchen tools. He knew he wanted to make a range of tools, so they needed a handle that could be used for many different tool types. “These were little items that had no batteries, no moving parts, but they provided a model that has been moving up the food chain ever since,” Moore explained, “Sam understood the duality of creating–that you need both form and function.” 

The OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler was developed to have a large, universally comfortable handle with an oval profile that doesn’t accidentally rotate in the hand. Image via OXO.

The development team wanted a handle that would be comfortable to hold for long periods and offer a secure grip even when wet. They found an innovative rubber-like polymer called Santoprene, which was being used for gaskets, this was the first time it would be used for a consumer product. They made hundreds of prototypes to understand the form that would work most effectively, and got feedback from those with all kinds of hand sizes and needs. They decided on an oval profile that wouldn’t easily rotate in the hand, a large, thick grip that would be easy to hold for those with low strength or impaired hand mobility or arthritis (or anyone), and textured fins on either side to provide a more precise grip for those who applied more pressure, and a visual cue of the tactile appeal of the tool. 

SmArt Design went to a Japanese knife company for manufacturing as none of the manufacturers in the US or Taiwan were confident they could successfully execute the delicate fins. This allowed them to have a superb blade, which is another reason that the peeler is such a hit. Not only is it comfortable and convenient to hold for all users, it is wonderfully sharp. The result of OXO’s undertaking is an iconic design object that established best practices for the entire design industry. Moore explained, “We were rethinking how you design. It became a social challenge.”

The paper coffee filter

Until 1908 it was common for coffee grounds and brewing water to share a vessel. The water would be poured directly over the grounds into a pot or mug and the grounds would gradually settle to the bottom of the container, becoming a thick sludge that the drinker would ideally leave behind but of course, that wouldn’t always work. Lots of clean-up was involved with this process, too. The French press was one solution to separate the grounds from the water, though it was only suitable for certain types of coffee and there was still the business of cleaning the apparatus. 

The paper coffee filter would change all of that, effectively filtering out the grounds and leaving behind a neat, disposable bundle for quick, painless clean-up. Coffee made with a filter was smooth, and sludge-free, and the filtration could influence the flavor positively as well.

Melitta Bentz was a German housewife in Dresden, passionate about good coffee. She made a cup each morning, irritated with each granule of ground coffee accidentally ingested. One day, fed up with the mess and inconvenience of the old way, she punched holes in an old tin pot and layered a sheet of her son’s blotting paper inside. She added coffee grounds and hot water, got a clean cup and a relatively clean pot, and never looked back. It’s said that she tested and refined the filter and the porcelain pour-over component with friends during her “coffee afternoons.”

Melitta Bentz developed not only the paper coffee filter but an entirely new system of making coffee based upon those filters. Image via jaune 10.

She was granted a patent within two years, in 1908, and set up a business making paper coffee filters in her Dresden apartment, with her two sons making deliveries and her husband creating displays to explain the new product. When she showed the product at the Leipzig Trade Fair the product took off and the company began to grow rapidly. The product was so clever in part because it was not only a product but a system. It took some education and training to help new users understand the idea, but once they saw the benefits they were quickly converted. The Melitta company is still one of the largest paper coffee filter manufacturers in the world. Though hundreds of styles are now available, the Melitta filter is the ancestor of them all.

The foot-pedal trash can

Many of the vegetable peelings and used filters above end up in our third critical kitchen design object, the foot-pedal trash can. While the concept of public sanitation has been around since the ancient Roman era, the first garbage receptacles didn’t come on the scene for hundreds of years, not until the late 1800s when the careless tossing of trash into streets and public waterways had become a public health hazard that could no longer be ignored. The ubiquitous foot-pedal trash can that we see in kitchens today was only designed in the last 100 years, in the 1920s. The development of this incredibly useful kitchen tool was brought about by an incredibly intelligent psychologist and engineer, Lillian Moller Gilbreth

Gilbreth was remarkable in many ways, most famously for being the model for the super-mother in the Cheaper by the Dozen movies, which tell the story of a family with 12 children and their clever systems for maintaining a functional household. The movies were based on books written by two of Gilbreth’s children. She is also known for her motion studies, detailed time-motion studies she did with her husband Frank Gilbreth in 1911 to understand how workers move when completing tasks as well as the time it takes to complete each task. These motion studies, and later studies around fatigue, were critical in streamlining factory processes. She also gave this kind of careful attention to offices, hospitals, sports arenas, kitchens, and her own domestic labor, determined to optimize those as well. 

The foot-pedal trash can allows users to access the trash with their hands free. Image via Simple Human.

Gilbreth worked as an industrial engineer for General Electric, which led her to design several improvements for the kitchen throughout the 1920s. She observed thousands of women at work, and from the insights she gathered from that research she developed the foot-pedal trash can as well as the shelves inside refrigerator doors, including the egg and butter trays. She also did the research that standardized counter, stove, cabinet, and other fixture heights in kitchens.  Next time you are at the trash can with your hands full, you can appreciate that clever, hands-free foot pedal action and the efforts of Lillian Moller Gilbreth to improve everyday life.

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