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Mary Walton, the Female Inventor Who Cleaned Up the Industrial Revolution

Mary Walton, inventor and environmentalist.
Mary Walton, inventor and environmentalist.
Illustration by Kirby Salvador.

Mary Walton

An inventor and an environmentalist, Mary Walton helped tame pollution during the Industrial Revolution. In 1879, she patented a system for pumping air through water tanks to help trap pollutants, which significantly reduced air pollution in Manhattan. Walton continued her crusade to make the city more livable by tackling noise pollution caused by the elevated trains. Using a model train set in her basement, she experimented with multiple noise reduction techniques before discovering that a wood track casing filled with tar, sand and cotton significantly helped muffle the sound. In 1881, she acquired a patent for the track, which she later sold to the New York City Metropolitan Railroad.

“My father had no sons, and believed in educating his daughters. He spared no pains or expense to this end.” —Mary Walton

This feature originally appeared in the Future issue. For more inspiring women, check out Grandma Moses’s story and our 5 Women section.