Mary Dixon Kies

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Mary Dixon Kies (March 21, 1752 – 1837) was an American inventor. On May 5, 1809, her patent for a new technique of weaving straw with silk and thread to make hats was signed by President James Madison.[1]

Some sources say she was the first woman to receive a US Patent,[2][3] however other sources cite Hannah Slater in 1793,[4][5][6] or Hazel Irwin, in 1808,[4] as the first.


Family life[edit]

Mary's father, John Dixon, was a farmer born in 1679 in Ulster, Ireland. Her mother, Janet Kennedy, was John Dixon's third wife. They had married in Voluntown, Connecticut on August 7, 1741.

Mary Dixon was born in Killingly, Connecticut on March 21, 1752. She married Isaac Pike I, and in 1770 they had a son, Isaac Pike II. After his death she married John Kies (1750–1813) who died on August 18, 1813, at age 63. She then lived with her second son, Daniel Kies, in Brooklyn, New York, until her death at age 85 in 1837.[7]


Because of the Napoleonic Wars, the United States had embargoed all trade with France and Great Britain, creating a need for American-made hats to replace European millinery. The straw-weaving industry filled the gap, with over $500,000 ($9 million in today's money) worth of straw bonnets produced in Massachusetts alone in 1810.[8]

Mary Kies was not the first American woman to innovate in hat-making. In 1798, New Englander Betsy Metcalf invented a method of braiding straw. Her method became very popular, and she employed many women and girls to make her hats. The method created a new industry for girls and women because the straw bonnets could be made at home from local resources, so the women and girls could do work for themselves. Thus, Betsy Metcalf started the American straw-hat industry. Under the Patent Act of 1790 she could have sought a patent, but like most women at the time, who could not legally hold property, she chose not to. Mary Kies, however, broke that pattern on May 5, 1809.[9] Dolley Madison was so pleased by Kies' innovation that she sent a personal letter applauding her.[10]

Kies' technique proved valuable in making cost-effective work bonnets. In so doing, she bolstered New England's hat economy, which had been faltering due to the Embargo Act of 1807. However, a change in the fashion of the day made her unable to profit from her invention and she died penniless in 1837.[7] Her original patent file was destroyed in an 1836 fire at the United States Patent Office.[11]


In 1965, a monument was erected in her honor in Old South Killingly Cemetery.[12]In 2006, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.[13]


  1. ^ "Mary Kies Became the First Woman to Receive a U.S. Patent". America's Story from America's Library. Library of Congress. Retrieved May 3, 2018.
  2. ^ Blakemore, Erin. "Meet Mary Kies, America's First Woman to Become a Patent Holder". Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  3. ^ "First Women Inventors | History of American Women". Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Progress and Potential: A profile of women inventors on U.S. patents United States Patent and Trademark Office.
  5. ^ "Women Inventors | History Detectives | PBS". Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  6. ^ "10 Key Dates in Women's History: The Early Modern Period". Britannica Blog. Encyclopædia Britannica. March 10, 2011. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Mary (Dixon) Kies, America's First Female Patent Holder". Archived from the original on 2007-04-27. Retrieved 2007-05-14.
  8. ^ "May 5, 1809: Hats Off to First U.S. Woman Patent-Holder". Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  9. ^ "HER INVENTIVE GENIUS; How Lovely Woman Is on Record in the Patent Office. MRS. MARY KIES HEADS THE LIST IN 1809 A Colored Woman's Patent -- A See-Saw Washing Machine -- Inventions Useful and Amusing". The New York Times. 1895-06-09. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-03-15.
  10. ^ "Young and Brave: Girls Changing History". Archived from the original on May 5, 2017. Retrieved May 27, 2016.
  11. ^ "Process for Weaving Straw". Invention Dimension. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Archived from the original on July 14, 2007. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  12. ^ "Killingly Historical and Genealogical Society - Mary (Dixon) Kies". Retrieved 2021-12-08.
  13. ^ "Women of Innovation | National Inventors Hall of Fame". 2013-11-21. Archived from the original on 2016-08-13. Retrieved 2016-05-27.