Thursday, February 18, 2010

Women in Transportation

Contributed by Sandy Paquette, Trainer, Evergreen Safety Council

Mary Walton reacting to the rampant air and noise pollution that resulted from the Industrial revolution made major technical contributions that improved the quality of life in New York City.

In 1897, Mary received patent #221,880 for a method of deflecting smokestack emissions through water tanks to capture pollutants, which were then carried by the water through the city sewage system. She adapted the system for the use on locomotives as well.

Later, Mary turned her attention to noise pollution. In the 1880’s many cities developed a mass transit system using elevated trains. These trains produced intolerable levels of noise. Living in Manhattan, Mary set out to solve the problem by setting up a model railroad in her basement. She used the model to develop a sound-dampening system that cradled the track in a wooden box lined with cotton and then filled with sand. After successful field trails that fitted her apparatus under the struts on existing elevated track, Mary Walton received patent # 327,422 for the system on February 8, 1881.

Olive Dennis was the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroads’ engineer of service and held patents for several rail-related inventions. She was the second woman to graduate from Cornell with a civil engineering degree and held a master’s degree in mathematics and astronomy form Columbia University.

In September 22, 1920, Olive began working for the B&O Railroad designing bridges as a draftsman in the engineering department. Fourteen months later, the president of B&O designated Olive the engineer of service. Her responsibilities were to improve passenger service on the B&O. She rode more than 5,000 miles of B&O track covering 44,000 miles the first year and nearly that much each year afterwards.

Between 1920 and 1951, Olive contributed to passenger comfort in many ways. Among her patents is the Dennis ventilator, which was inserted in the window sashes of passenger cars and controlled by passengers. Other areas to which she contributed were the inclusion of air-conditioned coaches, dimmers on overhead lights, individual reclining seats, and stain-resistant upholstery.

Olive Dennis is one of the notable women who worked in the American railroad industry. She became the first female member of the American Railway engineering Association. During her long career with the B&O, she never felt that gender stood in the way of advancement.

Resources/Picture: Federal Highway Administration

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