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How grief managed to save thousands of lives

If you’ve ever sat by a tumbling seaport or seen harrowing movies where the ships get tossed around, then you may have seen Martha Coston’s patent.

Take a deep breath and let’s dive into what one woman created despite every step of the way being filled with men telling her to give up.

A Look Back In Time

Martha Coston received patent number 23,536 on April 5th, 1859 for her pyrotechnic night signal and code system. Her invention was an improvement of her husband’s design which she found going through his notes after his tragic passing.

In her grief, she managed to invent something brighter. She spent over a decade refining her process of night flares and working with chemists to find the perfect color combinations. After watching a firework show, all the gears clicked in her mind to create long-lasting flares that shone pure white, red, and green for ships to signal one another.

Her invention proved useful during the Civil War, despite her struggle for compensation from the Navy. At every turn, she was dismissed for her ideas, but in her words she was “ready to fight like a lioness” because at the core of her idea, she knew it would help people.

Inventor’s Impact

Martha fought hard in her ambition to fulfill her husband’s original designs and thanks to her perseverance, she has saved thousands of lives.

“The men I employed and dismissed, the experiments I made myself, the frauds that were practiced upon me, almost disheartened me; but … I treasured up each little step that was made in the right direction, the hints of naval officers, and the opinions of the different boards that gave the signals a trial. I had finally succeeded in getting a pure white and a vivid red light.”

As her invention became more sought after, she developed her own company the Coston Manufacturing Company that produced products for shippers, navies, yacht clubs, and life-saving services around the world.

From signal flares to modern fashion, keep an eye out for my next article where we talk about the historical breakthrough in women’s daily outfits.

We are on a mission


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