Sibilla Masters Biography (c. 1670-1720)


Although her two patents were in her husband's name, Sibilla, or Sybilla, Masters was among the first, if not the first, American to receive a patent. Norecord of Masters' date or place of birth exists, but it may have been in themid to late 1670s and probably in Bermuda. Her parents, William and Sarah Righton, were Quakers. Her father was a merchant marine who may have emigratedto New Jersey from Bermuda in 1687. Sibilla married Thomas Masters, a successful merchant from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, around 1695. After they were married, he had a large mansion built in Philadelphia overlooking the DelawareRiver, the fruit of overseas land investments. He held several political posts, including mayor of Philadelphia from 1707 to 1708.

Sibilla Masters travelled to London between 1712 and 1715. During this time,she designed a corn pulverizer which cleaned and cured Indian corn grown in the American colonies. Master's invention consisted of a stamp, or pestle, that, when tripped, descended through a wooden cylinder to a mortar, which heldthe corn. The action of the stamp turned the corn into meal, which was then transferred to bins for drying, or curing. In 1714, Thomas Masters acquired agrist mill where the corn meal was produced for sale in the Philadelphia area. It was offered as a cure for consumption, an early term for tuberculosis, though it was nothing more than a food product. In 1715 an English patent wasissued to Thomas Masters for Sibilla's invention, since, by law, women were unable to receive patents.

In 1716 Masters, still on her own in England, secured another English patentin her husband's name. Her second invention involved a process by which strawand palmetto leaves were formed and stained for the adornment of women's hats and bonnets. Unfortunately, no diagram or description of the process exists. Less than a month after the patent was issued, Masters opened a shop in London, the West India Hat and Bonnet, where she sold head pieces and furniturepadding made from her straw and leaf treatment. Masters' business venture wasshort-lived, however, and she was back in Philadelphia by mid 1717. She secured the same two patents with the colony of Pennsylvania, once again in her husband's name. It is not known if she pursued her ventures any further afterthis. While Sibilla Masters is recognized for her inventiveness and attemptsat marketing, the real significance of her work remains her bold venture intoa realm that was generally exclusive of women.

User Contributions:

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