A Celebration of Anna Connelly

8th March 2022 marks this year’s International Women’s Day, a worldwide celebration of women’s rights and celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

March 1 through March 31 also marks the celebration of Women’s History Month. This month-long celebration is designed to pay tribute to the “generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society.”

Throughout the course of history, women have played an integral role in the development of technology. Today we’d like to take a moment to shine the spotlight on one women in particular whose invention changed the way we live and has saved the lives of thousands.

Anna Connelly, Inventor of the Fire Escape.

Did you know that modern fire escapes owe their existence to a woman? At a time before women were permitted to vote or even work outside the home, Anna Connelly of Philadelphia was one of the first women to submit an idea to the patent office.

In 1887, in an effort to prevent the deaths of many living in multi-story buildings, American inventor Anna Connelly patented the first steel exterior fire escape, predecessor of the modern fire escape.

She was one of the first women to register a patent for an invention after the Civil War, when women were finally allowed to file patents for themselves. Connelly’s design was a revolutionary way to make buildings safer by adding an exterior staircase that prevented people from falling several stories down a flight of stairs in the panic of an emergency.

This invention was technically known as a fire escape bridge that was surrounded by railings and with openings at the ends; the bridge type structure would connect adjacent buildings at the roof line. If a fire broke out and people could get to the top of the building, they could escape across the bridge to safety to the building next door, the steel or iron railings along the sides prevented people from slipping or falling off in panic.

This extract from Connelly’s patent details her idea,

‘My invention relates to improvements in fire-escapes; and it consists of a bridge surrounded by a railing and having openings in the ends of the floor thereof, as herein described, the said bridge being adapted to be placed on the roofs of adjoining or adjacent buildings, thereby permitting the ready and safe passage from one roof to the other.’

Connelly’s design was also a very cost effective strategy for improving public safety. Because the staircases were added to the exterior of the building, there was no need for costly building remodeling. Her invention led to the first building codes in New York City requiring a second means of egress for people to escape buildings in an emergency.

Anna Connelly, one of America’s first female inventors, is directly responsible for saving the lives of thousands of people for nearly 150 years. Little else is known about her, according to records she had been filing patents since 1877, but the fire escape bridge is her most valuable contribution. Like many other women inventors, her name is only mentioned briefly in history.

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