Mary Dixon Kies

Women in STEM
Mary Dixon Kies

Birth: March 21, 1752

Death: 1837

Specialty:  Inventor

Major Contributions:

First women to hold a U.S. patent

Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Prior to the passing of the Patent Act of 1790, only men could file a patent to protect their inventions in the United States. With the passage of this law these protections were opened to any inventor without regard to their gender or marital status. Unfortunately, there were many state laws still in place that forbid wives from owning property independent of their husbands and many women didn’t bother to patent their inventions.

That is until May 5, 1809, when Mary Dixon Kies was granted the first American patent given to a woman.  While not the first to create hats woven from straw, she was the first to weave straw with silk creating a new hat-making method that benefited from the political climate at the time.  Europe was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars and in an effort to remain out of the conflict, the US embargoed all trade with France and Great Britain.  Without these imports the hat industry was taking a huge hit.

In 1798 another woman, Betsy Metcalf, created a way of braiding straw that allowed her to make hats that quickly took off in popularity, but she decided not to patent her invention as she didn’t want her name sent to congress.  It was her design that Kies improved upon and patented. The First Lady, Dolly Madison, was so pleased that she sent a personal letter applauding Kies’ work. Her method was a very cost-effective way of creating these new hats and was for a while a great bolster to the economy of the area.  While her method was primarily used for women’s hats and bonnets it was also used to make some men’s hats – both types being popular in the United States and exported to Europe and Asia.

Kies’ original patent was destroyed in a fire in the U.S. Patent Office in 1836 and due to the changing fashions of the day she was unable to profit from her invention and died penniless in 1837. Honored by an induction to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006, examples of her woven hats can be found in many museum collections in the New England area of the United States. 

Written by Angela Goad


History of American Women: Mary Kies

Save the American Inventor: Inventor Highlight: Mary Dixon Kies

National Inventors Hall of Fame: Mary Dixon Kies

Wikipedia: Mary Dixon Kies

See Also:

Mary Dixon Kies

The Straw Shop: Mary Dixon Kies Example of hat from 1831

Meet Mary Kies, America’s First Woman to Become a Patent Holder