TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO- Despite the many challenges they have faced, African American inventors have made significant contributions to the world for centuries.
Inventors of African descent have changed our lives and have been integral to the development of technologies and innovations that have shaped the world around us.
This skill has been passed down from generation to generation, so it’s not surprising that African Americans have made significant contributions to this field. Many people associate the term “inventor” with the idea of a white male, but this is not always the case.
Listed below are fourteen (14) notable inventions by African Americans that have changed our lives and improved the quality of life for millions of people:
1- GEORGE CRUM (1824-1914)
It is said that Crum, a chef, and restaurateur, unintentionally created the potato chip in the summer of 1853. They were made in response to a customer who complained that their fried potatoes were too thick. Despite Crum’s failure to patent his invention, crisps have become one of the world’s favorite snacks.
2- FREDERICK MCKINLEY JONES (1893-1961)
Frederick McKinley Jones left his mark with the development of refrigeration equipment, receiving over 40 patents for it. He began developing automatic refrigeration systems for preserving food in the 1930s, which were installed on trucks, trains, ships, and planes.
His invention, the Thermo King, allowed people to eat fresh food all year round. A major part of his work included the preservation of blood and medicine, which was extremely useful during World War II. He was the first African American to receive the National Medal of Technology in 1991.
3- GRANVILLE T. WOODS (1856-1910)
Throughout his career, Woods was awarded nearly 60 patents, most of which helped improve railroad operations. Two of his most notable inventions were the induction telegraph system, which allowed trains to communicate with one another and to be located by dispatchers, and the first electricity-powered railway.
4- GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER (1864-1943)
So, it’s no secret that George Washington Carver gave us peanut butter, but he’s responsible for much more than that. An agricultural chemist, Carver carried out experiments on sweet potatoes and peanuts (which thrived in the South instead of cotton), to increase the profitability of crops.
He created 518 new products out of these crops. Among them are ink, dye, soap, cosmetics, flour, vinegar, and synthetic rubber. In 1914 he published the results of his experiments.
5- MADAM C.J. WALKER (1867-1919)
The first African American woman to become a self-made millionaire was Madam C.J. Walker, who created a collection of hair products geared specifically toward black hair. (She created the first, Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, in 1905). She is the subject of a Netflix series, Self-Made, which premiered in March 2020.
6- GARRETT MORGAN (1877-1963)
Thousands of lives have been saved since Garret Morgan’s most notable inventions were created. The traffic signal he patented in 1922 saved thousands of lives. It was the first to offer a third “caution” signal, which we now know as the yellow light. Moreover, Morgan received a patent in 1912 for his “Breathing Device,” considered by many as the first gas mask.
7- ALEXANDER MILES (1838-1918)
The elevator design of Alexander Miles also contributed to saving lives. Before him, elevators were manually operated, and users had to consciously open and close both elevator and shaft doors at all times. With his daughter, Miles realized the constant danger posed by the open shaft door of the elevator. It was in 1887 that he obtained the patent for his elevator cage invention, which included an automatic door opening system attached to a flexible belt. It was in 2007 that he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
8- PERCY LAVON JULIAN (1899-1975)
Percy Lavon Julian made several significant contributions to modern medicine as a result of his experiments with soybeans. He synthesized a drug called physostigmine, which is used to treat glaucoma. Julian also discovered how to mass-producecortisone and progesterone, which are used to produce sex hormones.
9- MARY BEATRICE DAVIDSON KENNER (1912-2006)
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, even though she has five patents to her name, is one of the most “forgotten” Black inventors, despite her contributions to society. In 1957, she patented a sanitary belt that was adjustable and had a moisture-proof napkin pocket at a time when women used cloth pads for their periods.
Additionally, she created a serving tray that could be attached to a walking frame, a toilet tissue holder, and a back washer that could be mounted on the wall of the shower.
10- MARIE VAN BRITTAN BROWN (1922-1999)
In 1966, Brown filed a patent for the first-ever home security system after she wanted to boost the security of her own house in her Queens, New York, neighborhood. As the foundation for modern systems, her original design included a camera, a two-way microphone, peepholes, and monitors.
11- SHIRLEY JACKSON (BORN 1946)
As the first African American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT, Jackson has contributed to revolutionizing telecommunications with products such as touch-tone phones, portable fax machines, fiber optic cables, and caller ID. Former President Barack Obama appointed her as co-chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory in 2014.
12- MARK DEAN (BORN 1957)
In addition to his doctorate from Stanford University, Dean is the co-inventor of IBM’s original personal computer and the PC color monitor, which revolutionized the way we interact with the Internet. And the technology that enables printers, keyboards, and mice to communicate with your computer? That’s him, too.
13- LONNIE JOHNSON (BORN 1949)
During his free time at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the engineer developed this mega water gun. As soon as the toy, dubbed the ‘Super Soaker’, hit the shelves in 1990, its popularity skyrocketed. According to Forbes in 2017, the toy generated more than $1 billion in revenue.
14- LISA GELOBTER (BORN 1971)
As a software engineer, Gelobter was involved in the creation of Shockwave in 1995, a technology that enabled web animation. (Think all those GIFs we know and love.) She was also involved in the launch of Hulu and served on its senior management team.