Black people have been inventing, creating, and enhancing society for hundreds of years. In fact, Black people have invented almost everything that we use today in society! From Egyptian ancestors that created the first numeric system which led to our understanding of mathematics, to learning how to actually have a writing system we could read, to more modern times with Garret Morgan inventing the traffic light, and let us not forget we wouldn’t be using personal computers if it wasn’t for Mark E. Dean!
Unfortunately, for the schools in America, we only learn about the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and countless other ‘revolutions’ that all circle around European accomplishments and history that is only taught from a Eurocentric perspective! It is not hard to see why there are still people who seem to think that everything great derived from Europe. But let me remind you, our history has been around long before slavery and there are plenty of inventions from Africa alone I could tell you about, but let’s begin with the Black geniuses right here in America.
,GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER
George Washington Carver learned to read and write at home and had various forms of education leading him to
be one of the worlds famous scientist. He developed 300 derivative products from peanuts, among them cheese, milk, coffee, flour, ink, dyes, plastics, wood stains, soap, linoleum, medicinal oils and cosmetics. He spent all his life in agricultural research helping poor southern farmers, both white and Black, change their farming practices and improving their health diets.
He taught the importance of planting peanuts to upgrade the quality of the soil, which had been drained from years of planting cotton. When the polio virus struck here in America, Carver offered a treatment of peanut-oil massages that he believed helped many people, especially children, gain relief from the painful and other effects of polio. People came from all over for his “cure.” Did you know that during the “Great Depression,” a period of great economic decline caused partly from poor farming practices and years of drought, people from all over wanted advice from Carver on how farmers could expand plant production and improve the soil at little cost?
The George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond was created soon after his death by a legislation sponsored by Senator Harry S. Truman. It was the first national memorial to an African American and is located on the farm where George was born. His monument shows him as a boy and was the first national memorial erected in honor of an African American. Let’s give George Washington Carver his flowers, literally, thank you George!
An inventor, computer scientist and engineer, Dean, grew up a straight A student and star athlete and then went on to study electric engineering.
It bothers me that some articles try to almost make it seem like Dean worked for IBM, no, Dean was the backbone of IBM! He developed the color PC monitor and the first gigahertz chip (a revolutionary piece of technology that is able to do a billion calculations a second.)
He also holds three of the company’s original nine patents. Oh, and let’s not forget he invented the Industry Standard Architecture system bus with engineer Dennis Moeller, allowing for computer plug-ins such as disk drives and printers. It’s unfortunate he doesn’t get the spotlight like “other” computer scientists such as Bill Gate and Steve Jobs. However, he was named an IBM fellow, the first African American ever to receive the honor. He was also honored with the Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 2001, he was tapped to be a member of the National Academy of Engineers. Thank you Mark E. Dean!
Marie Van Brittan Brown was ahead of her time in my eyes. A nurse and inventor, who only wanted to feel safe in her neighborhood because Black people couldn’t depend on the police. She took matters into her own hands, she applied for a patent along with her husband Albert Brown in 1966 for a closed-circuit television security system. The system was a motorized camera that showed images on a monitor. The patent, #3,482,037 was granted and became the forerunner to the modern home security system.
Her original invention included peepholes, a camera, monitors, and a two-way microphone with an alarm button that could be pressed to contact the police immediately. Three peepholes were placed on the front door at different height levels, one for tall people and other for average height individuals and children. A camera was attached with the ability to slide up and down to allow the person to see through each peephole. The camera picked up images that would reflect on the monitor via a wireless system. The monitor could be placed in any part of the house to allow you to see who was at the door. It gets better, there was also a voice component that allowed her to speak to the person outside the door. The police could be called at a push of a button and she could also unlock the door via remote control.
Like I said, ahead of her time. Thank you Marie!
If ‘put some Black excellence on it’ was a person, Alexander Miles would be in my top three. Alexander Miles is another African-American inventor known best for patenting his design for improving the automatic elevator doors, issued on October 11, 1887 (U.S. Patent 371,207).
Initially, elevators were manual. Passengers had to open and close the doors themselves or by elevator operators which was a huge safety risk. Believe it or not, a lot of people would forget to lose the shaft doors before using the elevator and there were a lot of incidents of people falling into the shafts. The elevators we use today have automatic doors thanks to Alexander Miles! Miles was known to be the wealthiest African American in the Pacific Northwest region and in 2007, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Thank you Alexander!
G.T. Sampson invented something I don’t think we actually appreciate as much as we should. The Clothes Dryer!
He came up with a better ventilator-type dryer that had a rack and used heat from a stove, rather than an open fire. It’s unfortunate no one really talks about him because we use his invention till this day!
Prior to Sampson’s invention, clothes dryers were being invented in England and France in the form of ventilators, which were essentially barrels with holes in them and turned by hand over fire. Electrical clothes dryers did not show up until around 1915, and the Hamilton Manufacturing Company produced the first fully automatic dryer in 1938. Sampson also invented the sled propeller, which involved attaching a propelling device to a tricycle. The wheels were replaced with runners so it would function on the snow. People occupying the sled would operate the propeller with their feet using pedals. He was granted a patent for his invention in on June 7, 1892. Thank you Sampson.
W.M. Harwell is also an incredible Black inventor beyond his time. His work has been generative for NASA, and he accumulated patents for his designs of a geometrical vapor blocker (for spacecraft radiators), an apparatus and method of capturing an orbiting spacecraft (Apogee Kick Motor [AKM]capture device) and a magnetic attachment mechanism (for the manipulation of satellites). What is all of this, you ask?
The design was basically special power packs worn by the astronauts during space walks to the special “stinger” toggle belt-like device use in November 1984 to retrieve the Westar and Palapa satellites and pull them back onto the space shuttle, Discovery. His designs are and continue to help construct and maintain space stations as well as developing equipment needed for space flights.
John Standard’s real name is “Stanard” which is how it is spelled in patent documents. I don’t know why there isn’t much known about him, but his invention of significant improvements to the refrigerator tells us all we need to know about this brilliant man. These improvements led to more innovations in refrigerator and stove designs that would change the way people around the world stored and cooked their food. As you know, during the late 1800’s there were very little opportunities given to Black people, especially in science. Which to me, was very ignorant because these people who pushed outside the norm and studied against all odds anyway, made way for an easier life for all people in America! His refrigerator upgrade design made in 1891, used a manually-filled ice chamber for chilling.
The ice-filled chamber was located in the left bottom corner area of the unit, while the main refrigerator section was to the right. He had created air ducts or holes to help cold air circulate from the ice chamber to the main refrigerator. The cold air, and cold “drip,” was passed from the ice chamber to the refrigerator through “cold-air ducts and perforations, that way, a constant circulation of air is maintained through the several chambers, and the water for drinking purposes in the receptacle is forever kept cool,” Stanard wrote in his patent application. A couple of years earlier, Stanard invented the oil stove, a space-saving design that he suggested could be used for buffet-style meals on trains. He was right! He received U.S. Patent No. 413,689 for this improvement on the Stanard stovetop on Oct. 29, 1889. Now, when you are catering a wedding, work meeting or party, you can thank Stanard for that!
JOHN L. LOVE
I would not talk about world famous inventors, without mentioning John L. Love. Love was an African American inventor best known for patenting a portable pencil sharpener known as the “Love Sharpener.” What the heck is that, you ask?!
It is that beautiful hand-cranked pencil sharpener you used when you were a kid.
On November 23rd, 1897, he filed a patent application for the “Love Sharpener.” Prior to his invention, the only available pencil sharpener was the rotary blade sharpener, a cumbersome device that utilizes the same rotary crank mechanism as wall-mounted pencil sharpeners. The Love Sharpener had a blade fastened to a wood casing which was customizable to suit the desires of the user.
The entire device fits nice and easily into the palm of your hand and the loose pencil shavings remain within the casing of the sharpener until removed. Love’s pencil sharpener design is still the most practical and convenient design used today! I know my eyeliner thanks Mr. Love! This wasn’t the only invention by Love, he also invented an enhanced plasterer’s hawk, a tool used by masons and plasterers that is a metal or wood board with a handle attached to it. The board was used to spread plaster and mortar smoothly and evenly. The design has a foldable aluminum board and a detachable handle, a more lightweight and portable version of the previous one-piece plasterer’s hawks. This invention is widely used even now in 2021.
Talk about beauty and brains and God’s gift to women everywhere! There were no tampons and disposable pads for women during that time of a woman’s monthly cycle. Instead, women used cloth pads and rags, which gave absolutely no kind of protection. Mary Kenner, decided no more and invented the sanitary belt! Although it wasn’t as comfortable, it gave a way better handling of a woman’s monthly cycle. Kenner’s sanitary belt had a moisture-proof napkin pocket which made it less likely for leaks.
She also went on to invent things like, bathroom toilet tissue holder and a patented a back washer that could be attached to the wall of a shower to help people clean parts of their back that were hard to reach. She even invented a children’s board game called “Family Treedition.”
She filed five patents in total which is more than any other African-American woman in history! Her invention for the sanitary belt wasn’t patented until 30 years after it was introduced because the company which was initially interested in her invention rejected it when they realized that Kenner was African-American! Either way, society could not turn a blind eye to how brilliant this woman was! Thank you Mary!
Augustus Jackson started out working in the White House in Washington D.C. when he was only nine years old and was a chef for twenty years! He cooked for so many presidents like John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson in the early 1800s. When he finally left there and returned to his original home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he opened up his own catering business and invented one of the most delicious comfort foods ever made; ice cream. Yes, ice cream had been around since the 4th century B.C.E, first originating from Persia, but Jackson came and added his Black excellence all over it.
He created recipes and techniques that no one had ever seen before. Most ice cream recipes involved eggs but his did not. He also added salt to the ice and mixed it with his new flavors and cream. The salt made his delicious flavors taste better and lowered the temperature of the ice cream allowing it to be kept colder for a longer time which helped with packaging and shipping. Jackson’s technique is still used today! Jackson packaged his ice cream in metal tins and sold them to ice cream parlors owned by other Blacks in Philadelphia. His many flavored ice creams became popular and sold for up to $1 a quart.
During this time, only the rich could afford ice cream, but Jackson wasn’t having it. His technique reduced the cost of production making it affordable to everyone
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this was ever patented and they don’t even have any record of his recipes but he had shared his ideas with five other Black ice cream parlor owners in Philadelphia, so they were able to keep it going until racial prejudice became a problem in the later years, driving them out of business.