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Martha Coston
Ceramic Sculpture
22” x 18” x 8.5"

Martha Coston (1826-1904)  

Marta Coston eloped at age 14 marrying a promising young inventor. As a result of chemical exposure, he died at age 21 leaving her with 3 children to feed. Two weeks after her husband died, her infant child died, and within a year her mother as well. Not long after, her husband's business partners and relatives bankrupted his estate and left her with very little. Looking through a box of his undeveloped ideas for inventions she came across an idea for a marine flare that ships could use to signal each other. Later, when she was attending the celebration of the laying of the trans atlantic cable she watched a fireworks display and knew that they held the answer to her husband's idea.

Working with fireworks companies she developed three different colored marine flares in white, green and red. Before the signal flares ships used colored flags to communicate, however, flags can't be seen at night. Coston's signal flares are credited by some for helping the North win the Civil War. Coston shared her flares with navies all around the world, but since she was a woman she received no credit and very little pay for her invention. As it was also frowned upon for women to travel by themselves, she had to take her young son with her as a chaperone whenever she traveled. The US Navy paid her a fraction of what they owed her and renamed the flares "Very Pistols" after lieutenant Very improved the cartridge for the pistol that released the flares. Martha grieved that she was never able to get full credit for herself and her husband. Only one Navy paid her the full amount she was owed for her invention: the Navy of Denmark.