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Black American Inventors and Innovators. Assembled by Dr. Teshia Young Roby. About this Presentation.

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black american inventors and innovators

Black American Inventors and Innovators

Assembled by

Dr. Teshia Young Roby

about this presentation
About this Presentation

What we know about early African American innovators comes mostly from the work of Henry EdwardBaker, a young African-American graduate of Harvard Law School. Baker was an assistant patent examiner at the U.S. Patent Office who was dedicated to uncovering and publicizing the contributions of Black inventors.

From the replies of thousands of registered patent attorneys to correspondence, Baker collected nearly 800 instances of verified patents issued to blacks, which he claimed represented less than half of those actually in existence.

-- Excerpted from Black Inventors,


The inventions and accomplishments of African Americans point out the contributions that African Americans have made to the comfort and advancement of mankind.

This acknowledgement of Black inventors and innovators is in celebration of our brave ancestors, our living examples, and our developing children.

Teshia Young Roby, PhD

leader of the pack
Leader of the Pack

In 1821, Thomas Jennings was the first African American to receive a patent. The patent was for a clothes dry-cleaning process. The first money Jennings earned from his patent was spent on purchasing his family out of slavery and supporting the abolitionist cause.

Patent #3306x

how sweet it is
How Sweet It Is!

Norbert Rillieux revolutionized in the sugar industry by inventing a refining process that reduced the time, cost, and safety risk involved in producing sugar from cane and beets

Patent #4879

a snack attack
A Snack Attack

The potato chip was invented in 1853 by George Crum, a chef at a vacation resort in New York. One day a diner complained that the french-fries were too thick. After repeated complaints from the fussy customer, Crum finally made fries that were too thin to eat with a fork, in hopes of annoying the customer. The customer, surprisingly enough, was happy - and potato chips were invented!

an honorable man
An Honorable Man

In 1874, Edward Bouchet with honors, became the first African American to graduate from Yale. In 1876, when Dr. Bouchet earned a PhD in physics from Yale, he became the first African American to earn a doctorate degree from an American university.

a bright idea
A Bright Idea

In 1882, Lewis Latimer invented an inexpensive carbon filament, making the mass production of light bulbs possible.

Latimer was the original draftsman for Thomas Edison and the only African American member of the "Edison Pioneers." Latimer worked in the laboratories of both Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell (Latimer drafted the drawing for Bell’s telephone patent).

In 1881, Latimer supervised the installation of the electric lights in New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London.

Patent #252386

walk a mile in his shoes
Walk a Mile in His Shoes

Jan Ernst Matzeliger invented a shoemaking machine that increased shoemaking speed by 900%! His patent was bought by the United Shoe Machinery Company, which became a multimillion dollar corporation, the largest of its kind in the world.

Matzeliger, however, died in obscurity at the age of 36 in 1889.

Patent #274207

very much kneaded
Very Much Kneaded

Judy Reed may have been the very first African American woman patent holder. In 1884, Reed applied for a patent for an improved dough kneader and roller. The invention made the process of making bread much less labor intensive and much more sanitary. Reed may not have been able to sign her name, as she signed her patent application with an "X."

Patent #305474

it s goode to be first
It’s Goode to Be First

Sarah Goode’s patent was the first confirmed patent obtained by an African-American woman inventor. In 1885, Goode invented the folding cabinet bed, a space-saver that folded up against the wall into a cabinet that could be used as a desk. Goode owned a furniture store in Chicago and invented the bed for people living in small apartments.

Patent #322177

straight to the top
Straight to the Top

Alexander Miles made great improvements upon elevator technology in 1887 and created the first electric elevator that included auto-closing doors as a safety device. The invention prevented people from falling down empty elevator shafts.

Patent #371207

he s no phone y
He’s No Phone-y

Granville Woods pioneered several inventions and improvements in telegraphy and telephone communications and electric currents used for railways.

Woods’ railway inventions were important predecessors to the current subway systems around the world.

Woods took on the powerful Edison Company who challenged his phone inventions in patent court. Woods not only won those patent rights, but was also able to prove his earlier rights to inventions claimed by Edison. Interestingly, after Edison’s second legal loss to Woods, Edison offered Woods a position to work for him. Woods turned him down.

Woods has over 36 patents, 14 of which are for electric railways

the write stuff
The Write Stuff

In 1890, William Purvis made several improvements to the fountain pen in order to make it a “more durable, inexpensive, and better pen to carry in the pocket.” The pen eliminated the need for an ink bottle by storing ink in a reservoir within the pen which is then fed to the pen's tip.

Patent #419065

fly ing high
Fly-ing High

Entomologist, Dr. Charles Henry Turner was a noted authority on the behavior of insects. In the early 1890s he was the first researcher to prove that insects can hear. Dr. Turner is still recognized as one of the leading authorities on insect learning and behavior over 70 years after his death.

mender of broken hearts
Mender of Broken Hearts

In 1893, Dr. Daniel Williams performed the first successful open-heart surgery by an American.

In 1891 Dr. Williams founded Provident Hospital for black nurses. The hospital is now the oldest black-owned hospital in the United States.

In 1913, Dr. Williams was the only African-American in a group of 100 charter members of the American College of Surgeons and he founded and became the first vice-president of the National Medical Association.

fender bender
Fender Bender

In 1895, Matthew Cherry invented the street car fender, which helped to prevent injury to vehicle passengers and damage to the street cars.

An adaptation of Cherry’s fender can be found on all modern vehicles.

Patent #531908

we all scream for ice cream
We All Scream for Ice Cream!

In 1897, Alfred Cralle invented the ice cream scooper, which provided a means for placing the frozen deliciousness on a sugar cone or into a bowl!

Patent #576395

a hole in one
A Hole in One

Some golf clubs still today exclude African Americans from using their facilities. It is strangely ironic then that in 1899, George F. Grant, DDS was the first to patent the tapered golf tee. The golf tee allowed the golf ball to sit in place until the player was ready to swing.

Prior to Dr. Grant’s invention, players had to create a mound of dirt on which to position the golf ball.

Patent #576395

the millionaires club
The Millionaires Club

In the early 1900s, Madame CJ Walker was the nation’s first self-made female millionaire of ANY race. Her hair products empire amassed over $2 million, which in 2003 would equate to almost $42 million!

on the safe side
On the Safe Side

In 1923, Garret Morgan obtained the first patent for the traffic signal. Morgan sold the rights to his traffic signal for $40,000 (which equates to $432,000 in 2003). His traffic signal, made with “Stop” and “Go” signs, preceded the red, yellow, and greens lights that we use today.

Morgan also designed a gas mask that was used to save the lives of firefighters in Ohio and soldiers in WWI.

Prior to his death in 1963, Morgan was recognized by the US Government for his safety contributions to society.

Patent #1475024

drinking and driving
Drinking and Driving

Richard Bowie Spikes was a man of many ingenious ideas.

In 1913 he patented the automobile turn signals. First used in the Pierce-Arrow automobile, the signals soon became standard in all vehicles.

In 1910 his patented beer keg tap was purchased by the Milwaukee Brewing Co.

In 1919 Spikes designed a continuous contact trolley pole that was used on the famous San Francisco Key Line.

In 1933, for his designs of improved transmission and gear-shifting devices, Spikes received over $100,000 which would equate to $1.4 million in 2003.

By the time his safety brake device was completed in 1962, Spikes was deemed legally blind. His braking invention can be found in school buses today.

Patent #1889814

the gift of life
The Gift of Life

In the early 1940s, Dr. Charles Drew invented a method for preserving blood for longer periods than was standard at the time. Dr. Drew started the first blood bank during WWII and was eventually appointed the first director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank.

keep on truckin
Keep on Truckin’

In 1949, Fredrick Jones patented an automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks. This product revolutionized the shipping and grocery businesses. Jones’ invention enabled fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and other perishable items to be transported over wide distances and the world saw the emergence of the “supermarket.”

In 1961, Jones was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology, one of the greatest honors an inventor could receive. Jones was the first Black inventor to ever receive such an honor.

Patent #2475841

setting the pace
Setting the Pace

Dr. Otis Boykin is responsible for inventing an electric resister used in all guided missiles, computers, radios, TV sets and a variety of electronic devices. Dr. Boykin's resistor helped reduce the cost of those products.

Dr. Boykin also invented a control unit for heart stimulators. His contribution to pacemaker technology saved many lives. Ironically, Dr. Boykin died of heart failure in 1982.

Patent #2972726

on candid camera
On Candid Camera

In 1969, Marie Van Brittan Brown patented the first home security system that utilized television surveillance.

Patent #3482037

microphone check 1 2 3
Microphone Check: 1, 2, 3…

In the mid 1970s, the research of James Edward West led the development of sound technology that is used in 90% of all microphones built today. West technology is in the heart of most everyday items such as telephones, camcorders, and tape recorders. The microphone became widely used because of its high performance, accuracy, and reliability, in addition to its low cost, small size, and light weight.

Holds 47 US and more than 200 foreign patents

making connections
Making Connections

In 1985, Mark Dean, PhD, and his co-inventor created a microcomputer system with means for attaching peripherals like disk drives, video gear, mics, speakers, and scanners. Dr. Dean holds three of IBM’s original nine PC patents.

Currently, Dr. Dean is a vice president of IBM. He was named an IBM fellow in 1996 and in 1997, he received the Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award. Dr. Dean holds more than 20 patents.

Dr. Mark Dean was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1997.

Patent #4528626

the real mr clean
The Real Mr. Clean

While employed by Procter & Gamble in 1987, Dennis Weatherby, PhD developed and received a patent for the automatic dishwasher detergent known by the trade name Cascade.

Patent #4714562

faster than fast
Faster Than Fast

In 1989, Philip Emeagwali programmed the world’s fastest computer. Using the Internet, he programmed the Connection Machine to compute a record 3.1 billion calculations per second using 65,536 processors. The $5 million machines owned by the US government were left entirely to Emeagwali’s use because they were considered impossible to program.

Emeagwali’s program outperformed the fastest supercomputer and set the blueprint for future supercomputer design.

It took Emeagwali 1057 pages to describe his programming techniques.

let there be sight
Let There Be Sight

In 1988, ophthalmologist, Dr. Patricia Bath invented a method of eye surgery that has helped many blind people to see. The procedure involves the abating and removal of cataract lenses.

Dr. Bath is the first African American woman doctor to ever receive a medical patent.

Dr. Bath has been nominated to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Patent #5843071

a toy story
A Toy Story

In 1989, nuclear engineer Lonnie G. Johnson invented the world-famous water gun, the Super Soaker®. In 1991, the toy was patented. Early sales from the Super Soaker® exceeded $200 million.

Johnson holds 60 US patents (20 pending).

Patent #5074437

out of this world
Out of This World

In 1983, Dr.Guion S. Bluford, Jr. became the first African American astronaut to fly in space. His first space flight was on STS-8, where he served as a mission specialist.

Dr. Mae C. Jemison became the first African American woman to go into space when she flew on the space shuttle Endeavor on September 12, 1992. Also, Dr. Jemison was Science Mission Specialist (a NASA first) on the STS-47 Space lab J flight.

In 1995, Dr. Bernard Harris became the first African-American to walk in space. He logged 198 hours, 29 minutes in space, completed 129 orbits, and traveled over 2.9 million miles.

Recently, astronaut Joan Higginbotham, flew into space on the STS-116 in December 2006, during a 12 day, 20 hour and 45 minute outpost construction mission for future space walks.

300 turn
300° Turn

At age 35, Ralph Gilles led the team of designers who created the Chrysler 300C. The luxurious and sporty vehicle known as the “Baby Bentley” won the 2005 Motor Trend Car of the Year and was on Car and Driver's Ten Best list for 2005 and 2006. It also won the North American Car of the Year and Canadian Car of the Year Best New Luxury Car awards. Gilles’s accomplishments helped turn the struggling car company towards a profitable new direction.

And in our midst, there are countless, countless others, who are brilliant, creative adventurers and dreamers…

Data and graphics for this presentation

were retrieved from the following sources:

  • African American Inventors -
  • Africana: Gateway to the Black World -
  • About Garret Morgan -
  • The Black Inventor –
  • Black Inventors A – Z -
  • Black Inventors and Inventions -
  • Culture and Change: Black History in America -
  • Faces of Science – African American Inventor in the Sciences -
  • Great Men and Women in Black History -
  • Historical Text Archive -
  • History of the Super Soaker ® -
  • NASA -
  • Oldtimer Car Picture Gallery -
  • Points to Ponder - Colors of Innovation -
  • Sugar at LSU: a Chronology -
  • United States Patent and Trademark Office -