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Book Review: Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries That Have Shaped Our World by Susan Casey

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At the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the organizers sought out women inventors, and were not disappointed. The fair saw the introduction of Josephine Cochran's dishwashing machine, patented in 1886. Imagine the excitement within the audience as a continuous stream of either soapsuds or clear hot water sprayed racks of dishes.

Susan Casey's book, Women Invent!, Two Centuries of Discoveries That Have Shaped Our World, provides concise biographies of the inventive women who helped move society forward from as early as 1715 through the 20th century. The book, originally written for children ages 9-13, is a pleasant read for parents and children, and a look back in time for senior citizens who may recall the good old days BC: before computers.

Invention categories include technical, such as the work of Grace Hopper, programmer in the COBOL  computer language, medical devices and antibiotics, even Liquid Paper and Totino's frozen pizza, all inventions by women.

What's especially noteworthy in Women Invent! is how women invent not just to fill a need, like Ron Popeil's once famous Veg-O-Matic, which became most famous for its late-night infomercials. Women seemed especially adept at noticing a problem, and finding a solution with the goal of solving a problem. Concern for the welfare of others was more of a driving force than the desire to be the next great inventor.

Amanda Jones, a woman way ahead of her time, invented the vacuum process of preserving food in 1872, and it was another woman, Disa Rubenbauer, in the 1990s who developed biodegradable fast-food containers, made from corn stalks.

A solar heating system was invented by Maria Telkes in 1948, more than 60 years before the greening of America today, since we're dangerously close to exhausting our energy supplies.

Working as a chemist in WWII when all the men were away fighting, Gertrude Elion had outstanding achievements. Her work as a scientist led to a 1988 Nobel Prize after her long research with drugs to combat childhood leukemia, a patent for a drug enabling kidney transplants, and work on the discovery of AZT for AIDS patients. When inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Elion is quoted as saying: "I'm happy to be the first woman, but I doubt I'll be the last."

If you’re impressed with all this knowledge, so was the author after her thorough research. "It seems the inventions by women contributed to every aspect of life," says Casey. The book ends with an innovative resource guide for inspiring inventors.

Women Invent! includes generous historical research, with photos and drawings. The book walks readers, especially imaginative youngsters, through the process of problem solving, from design to patents, trademarks and licensing. Along the way, the ingenuity of inventors lets us contemplate all the energy and innovation needed to keep our culture moving forward. We learn to be grateful for the optimism and hard work of these inspiring inventors.

Casey followed up with Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors, in 2005. In it, she teaches children how to identify a problem through observational skills, and begin the research to turn a problem into a solution, using the process of discovery to become an inventor.

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