Innovation can sometimes come from unlikely places—like the mind of a 12-year-old girl who received the right guidance and encouragement from her father and mentor.
- Twelve-year-old Becky Schroeder was the youngest-ever female inventor, according to several media outlets at the time, when she successfully secured a patent for her Glo-sheet.
- Her invention paved the way for many glow-in-the-dark products seen today and inspired female creators to follow in her steps, The Hustle reports.
- Though Schroeder’s patents have since expired, and she is no longer focused on inventing, her legacy and her hunger for knowledge live on in her family and her hobbies.
Why it’s news
Like so much innovation before her, Schroeder’s invention came out of necessity. The then nine-year-old girl struggled to do her homework in a department store parking lot while waiting for her mother to take her home. She wondered whether or not there was a way for her to see the page even while her surroundings were dark, The Hustle reports.
Schroeder’s father was a patent attorney and an inventor himself. Over his career, he patented over 200 inventions for himself and his company. When his daughter came to him with an idea for glow-in-the-dark paper, he encouraged her research.
Schroeder’s original prototype was phosphorescent paint that she applied to a sheet of cardboard. After exposing the paint to the light, the sheet glowed for around 15 minutes. Schroeder found she could write on top of the paint in a dark room.
The patenting process took some time, and it was not until Schroeder was 12 in 1974 that she secured the patent for her “luminescent backing sheet for writing in the dark.” The product was described as “a lined phosphorescent backing sheet for use in underlying relation with writing paper permitting a writer to write in orderly lined form in the dark without need for external light.”
Schroeder envisioned the usefulness of the Glo-sheet extended beyond helping elementary-aged girls finish their homework. The girl listed potential uses in the patent application, such as note-taking for scientists and astronauts when their work required them to be in the dark, The Hustle reports.
Though the patent office does not record the age of its applicants, several news outlets at the time reported that Schroeder was the youngest-ever female inventor to obtain a patent.
Schroeder’s age made her an unusual inventor, but so did her gender. In 1976, less than 4% of awarded patents were given to women inventors. In 2016, that number has grown to 20%, The Hustle reports.
Schroeder was featured on “Good Morning America,” “60 Minutes,” and “Voice of America,” bringing media attention to what eventually became her own business—B.J. Products. She was featured in multiple newspapers and magazines, effectively negating the need for marketing.
The Glo-sheet was a hit. Restaurants bought the product to make menus more legible in dim lighting, and healthcare workers took notes on glowing paper to avoid disturbing patients. Schroeder filed 30 patents over her career, The Hustle reports.
The inventor now lives in relative anonymity with her family in Michigan, where her curiosity lives on as she studies hobbies like paleontology and archeology. Her inventions, too, have new life in glow-in-the-dark coloring books and children’s toys.
Schroeder may have left the world of inventing, but her legacy lives on. Her Glow-sheet paved the way for many glow-in-the-dark products and highlighted the importance of nurturing young minds and encouraging them to pursue their ideas.