Book Review: Secrets of Successful Women Inventors: How They Swam with the “Sharks” and Hundreds of Other Ways to Commercialize Your Own Inventions

Edited by Edith G. Tolchin

Jana R. Martin
3 min readOct 16, 2023

The double helix (Rosalind Franklin, not Watson and Crick). The life raft (Maria Beasley). Kevlar (Stephanie Kwolek). Computer programming (Grace Hopper). Isolating stem cells (Ann Tsukamoto). The theory of radioactivity (Marie Curie). Solar-powered heating (Maria Telkes). Also, ice cream (Nancy Johnson). What do they all have in common? Groundbreaking inventions all, but in many cases, you’ve never heard of the women behind them. There’s a long history of women inventors that’s also a history of fighting for recognition — and upending the stereotype that innovation is essentially male territory. Women continue to innovate in groundbreaking ways that are disrupting markets and changing lives — if they can get their invention off the ground and into production. Edith G. Tolchin’s Secrets of Successful Women Inventors will certainly help.

This is an inspiring guidebook for women inventors — and, indeed, anyone interested in the spirit and sometimes slog of innovation. While there are lookbacks at the women throughout history who paved the way, the book focuses on women now — and that’s part of its appeal. This is a savvy book by an insider about savvy women who made it, despite plenty of obstacles.

Tolchin also has written for Inventors Digest since the year 2000, and interviewed countless inventors. “The ratio of my clients over the years has been two male inventors for every one female,” she notes knowingly in her compelling introduction to the book. She cites women inventors from Golden Age Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr — responsible for the precursor to wi-fi — to Beulah Louise Henry, who holds an astonishing forty-nine (49) patents, making her one of the 20th century’s most prolific inventors, period (and wonders there on the page why they’re not better known. Rather than just analyze, however, she’s here to change things, as any innovator would. And so she does.

Editor and author, Edith G. Tolchin
Editor and author, Edith G. Tolchin

What follows, first, are a parade of success stories — all women inventors — told in first-person narrative. These are candid voices, retelling the genesis of their particular invention and then the respective pursuit of getting it out into the world. Women talk about being on TV’s Shark Tank and meeting show hosts Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban; about having to pivot or dig in; about working out contracts and minutiae; about their hopes, frustrations and, ultimately, their victories. Many of the inventions discussed have become household must-haves or ingenious problem solvers. Many have cute names, but the grit, drive, and sheer force of will that brought them to life is anything but cute. Each inventor offers her own take on financing, advertising, marketing, labeling, materials, production — and trying to balance her own life with the 24/7 focus it takes to succeed.

Tolchin doesn’t leave it there. She has also gathered a set of secrets and strategies from women inventors that almost seem like a superheroine’s toolkit. There’s a wellspring of tips, from PR to funding to packaging, and accounts of how particular inventions made it all the way through the long journey from concept to revenue. Nothing is ignored here, and nor is the underlying message. Women deserve to be at the forefront of innovation. Armed with the knowledge presented in this book, and standing on the shoulders of the many women inventors who have paved the way, they will.

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Jana R. Martin

Jana Martin is a writer, editor and book reviewer based in the Hudson Valley.