There have been women inventors throughout history and it came as a nice surprise to find one with ties to our community.
Amanda Theodosia Jones was born on October 19, 1835 in East Bloomfield, New York. The fourth of twelve children she spent her youth in New York. Her parents loved books and the knowledge that could be found in them. They instilled that love into Amanda. Her intellect was far superior to most children her age. At the age of 15 she alternated between teaching in a one room schoolhouse and continuing her education at the local high school. She graduated from the Normal Course at East Aurora Academy in 1850.
While she loved to learn she had no interest in teaching. In 1854 she quit teaching and decided to pursue a career in the field of writing. Her Civil war poems and songs published by Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper gathered quite a following. Many of her writings, especially her poetry, were abstract and otherworldly. From a very young age Amanda had believed in spirits and psychic phenomena. This was reinforced by the tragic death of her brother Lester. She connected his death with a dream she had two years before. She became convinced that the spirits talked to her and she could foresee the future.
Amanda was a lively robust youth who enjoyed the outdoors. In 1859 she contracted tuberculosis; she spent over a year and a half recovering. She never fully regained her health and often frequented spas and underwent alternative medical practices. A breakdown at age 17 left her as an invalid for 6 years. Some speculate that the breakdown was clinical depression brought on by her inability to cope with her brother’s death. From 1861 to 1869 she lived in the New York countryside writing her verses, communicating with the spirit world and gathering her strength so that she could return to the world.
The summer of 1969 brought about big changes in Amanda’s life. A dream convinced Amanda that it was time to change her life and move on to new challenges. She took an editorial job with the Western Rural, a popular farmer’s publication and later worked as editor of The Bright Side, a children’s magazine.
In 1872 while undergoing an air bath treatment she dozed off only to awaken with the idea for vacuum canning. Having never canned, no mechanical ability, and no scientific training she contacted a family member that was a scientist, Leroy C. Cooley.
Canning had been invented in 1810 by a candy maker and distiller by the name of Nicolas-Francois Appert. The problem with his method of canning was that the food was cooked to the point where there was little taste and the texture can only be described as mush. Amanda’s invention would make it possible to can uncooked fruits and vegetables that would be desirable treats later in the year when fresh fruits and vegetables were not available.
After many trials and errors she and Cooley developed a process that involved steaming sealed jars to raise the internal temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This caused the contents of the jars to expand, forcing out the air in the jar. They quickly patented the process and set about perfecting it. In 1873 they received a total of 7 patents.
By 1890 the women’s rights movement was in full swing and while Amanda did not consider herself a feminist she understood how hard it was for a woman to earn a living without a husband. Implementing her canning process she started the Women’s Canning and Preserving Company in Chicago. In the beginning there were only two men working for the company. Leroy Cooley, who had helped her develop the process and Mike, who ran the boiler. Amanda ran the business from selling stock to training the employees. The business showed considerable profits in the first year.
Unfortunately the success of the business attracted investors that expected increased profits. A group of male investors bought into the business and started to manage the business affairs. Within three years Amanda had been forced out of the business.
In 1893 she moved to Junction City, Kansas to live with her sister Marion Manley. While living in Junction City she published articles describing her inventions in Engineer and Steam Engineering Journals. She also contributed to Kansas Bird Songs for The Century, and Flowers and a Weed for the Kansas State Social Science Federation. She passed away in 1914. While her inventions did not lead to her wealth or fame she was able to touch people’s lives by improving how they ate.