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  • Annika Santhanam

Celebrating Women's History Month: The Women Behind the Automobile Industry!

March is Women’s History Month, and every year companies and individuals show their support and recognition for the women in their industries. For International Women’s Day on March 8th this year, Ford, the automobile company, decided to celebrate the women of their industry by releasing an advertisement for…..a Men’s Only Ford Explorer!

Did that make you say “What???” Sounds like they got the wrong idea, right?

Actually, Ford’s satirical take on their advertisement perfectly portrayed the importance of women in the automobile industry. The Men’s Only version of the car lacked windshield wipers, turn signals, and even a GPS!

Let’s take a deeper look at this advertisement, and all of the women who played a role in developing the automobiles we know today!

Creators of the Rearview Mirror: Dorothy Levitt

Dorothy Levitt was known for being revolutionary in her efforts to popularize women behind the wheel of automobiles. She started racing cars in 1903, and she wrote her own columns about driving for women in the Daily Graphic newspaper. In 1909, a book of these columns was compiled and published, and within this book was detailed her idea for the first rearview mirror. She stated that a handheld mirror will be useful while driving, “not only for personal use, but to occasionally hold up to see what behind you.” Her idea was officially adopted into car designs five years later! Levitt was a trailblazer for women in the automobile industry, proving to many women that they can play a substantial role in the field.

Developer of the GPS (Global Positioning System): Dr. Gladys West

Dr. Gladys West was a mathematician of the 1950s whose work greatly increased the accuracy and efficiency of GPS systems. After earning her master’s in mathematics, she was offered a job at the Naval Support Facility in Dahlgren, Virginia, becoming the second African-American woman to work on the naval base as a programmer.

At the time she was hired, West’s job was becoming revolutionized by the introduction of computers, which she was hired to program. In the 1980s, West was assigned to the role of project manager of the Seasat radar project, which was the first satellite that monitored the oceans. Within the project, she worked on programming the IBM 7030 Stretch computer, which calculated an accurate model of the Earth, its gravitational field, and other important data. This model became the foundation for the GPS orbit, which was finalized and fully operational in 1995. West was an important innovator not only as a woman in the field but also as one of the only women of color in her workplace!

Developer of Brake and Turn Signals: Florence Lawrence

Florence Lawrence started out as a Canadian silent film actress. When she purchased her first car in 1913, she realized that automobiles lacked a significant safety feature: a way to indicate to other cars which way a driver was turning. She developed a lever system to indicate turning left or right as well as a sign on the rear of the car to indicate a stop or brake, raised and lowered by pressing the brake pedal. The technology of flashing or clicking turn signals was developed later over the century, and it wasn’t until one year after Lawrence’s death in 1938 that Buick began incorporating clicking turn signals into their automobiles. Only in the 1960s did Ford require turn signals to be implemented in their automobiles.

Innovator of Wi-Fi, GPS, and Cellular Communication: Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr has quickly become a household name, and her legacy of her accomplishments is recognized on a large scale. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1914, Lamarr started out as a film actress in Europe, eventually moving to America and continuing to act in Hollywood in 1937. After meeting George Antheil, the pair started to work together during World War II to design a radio system to guide the Navy’s torpedoes. Lamarr ended up pioneering the frequency hopping technology, which ended up becoming the foundation for virtually all of our cellular technology today. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS all utilize frequency hopping technology, and they wouldn’t have existed without Lamarr’s work!

All of these amazing women are the backbone for the successful advancements within the automobile industry. They have been influential trailblazers,carving out the path for many young girls to look up to them and embark on innovations of their own! To learn more about Ford’s Women’s Day campaign as well as today’s women that are integral to Ford’s operations, visit

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more articles!



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