African Americans have a long and rich history of inventing and pioneering in a variety of fields. Despite countless challenges and discrimination, African American inventors have left an indelible imprint on the globe, paving the way for future generations. This article honors the lives and accomplishments of fifteen African American inventors who made a significant impact.
African American Inventors Who Made History
- Alexander Miles
Alexander Miles was a black inventor who lived between 1838 and 1918. He is best known for inventing the elevator, which changed the way people moved up and down buildings. He invented an automatic door system for elevators in 1887 and received a patent for it.
Before his invention, elevator doors used to be closed manually and sometimes by dedicated operators.
Miles’ invention made high-rise buildings safer, faster, and more reliable, and it helped to shape the modern skyscraper.
- George Washington Carver
Born and lived between 1864 and 1943, George Washington Carver was an African American agricultural scientist and inventor. His work with peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other crops helped to revolutionize agriculture in the United States. Carver’s research and inventions improved crop quality and yield while inspiring farmers to find new uses for these products.
His invention improved soil fertility by planting peanuts and sweet potatoes instead of just focusing on planting cotton.
- Charles Richard Drew
Charles Richard Drew was an African American physician and medical researcher. He is best known for his work in developing blood banks and conducting blood transfusion research. During World War II, Drew’s work saved countless lives and improved medical care for wounded soldiers. He lived between 1904 and 1950.
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- Garrett A. Morgan
Garrett A. Morgan lived from 1877 to 1963 and was one of the most famous African American inventors in history. He is best remembered for developing the gas mask and the traffic signal that keeps on saving lives today. Morgan’s inventions allowed firefighters and other rescue workers to enter dangerous environments safely and revolutionised traffic control on the roads to save more lives. If you walk out there today and see traffic lights, remember it was invented by a black man.
- William Harry Barnes
William Harry Barnes was a doctor who invented an instrument in 1914 that made it easier for doctors to reach the pituitary gland. This was significant because the pituitary gland regulates growth hormone and other hormones that aid in the regulation of bodily functions such as metabolic activities and blood pressure.
Barnes was born in 1887 and received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1912. He trained in ear, nose, and throat surgery before returning to Philadelphia and starting his own practice at Jefferson Hospital.
- George Crum
George Crum was born in Saratoga County, New York on July 15, 1824. He was a chef and restaurateur famous for pioneering the potato chip. His invention was by accident. According to legend, one day he served a customer fries made from thinly sliced potatoes fried in hot oil. The customer expressed dissatisfaction with how bland they were and inquired if there was anything else he could do with them. Crum fried them again, but this time cut them much thicker and roll them into little triangles—and potato chips were born!
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- Granville T. Woods
Granville T. Woods was a mechanical engineer and inventor born in 1856. He holds over 50 patents, including the automatic braking system that is still in use today.
In 1887, he invented the first egg incubator, which is used to keep eggs warm so they hatch faster than if they are left at room temperature—a process that still saves millions of chicks from death every year!
He also invented the “Woods Brake,” which was used to prevent trains from colliding at high speeds.
- Madam C.J. Walker
Sarah Breedlove was born Madam C.J. Walker on December 23, 1867, in Delta County, Louisiana. She was an African-American businesswoman and philanthropist who made her fortune in the early 1900s by developing and marketing a line of cosmetics and hair care products for black women.
She died on May 25, 1919, at the age of 51, but she has since gone on to become one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs due to her innovative contributions to the beauty industry.
- Frederick McKinley Jones
Frederick McKinley Jones (1893-1961) was a famous black inventor. He is best known for his contributions to the refrigeration industry, including the development of an automatic truck refrigeration system. Jones’ invention made it possible to transport perishable goods over long distances and revolutionized the transportation of food and other goods.
Throughout his life, he held more than 60 patents.
- Percy Lavon Julian
Mr Percy Lavon Julian was a chemist and inventor of African American descent who made significant contributions to medicine and chemistry. Julian, who was born in 1899, was a pioneer in the synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He created drugs like cortisone, a hormone used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and progesterone, which is found in birth control pills.
- Lewis Latimer
Lewis Latimer was an African American inventor and engineer who contributed significantly to the development of the electric light bulb and the telephone. Latimer, who was born in 1848, began his career as an office boy in a patent law firm, where he developed an interest in inventions.
He later worked as a draftsman for Alexander Graham Bell and helped to develop the telephone. He invented the carbon filament, which greatly improved the practicality and efficiency of electric lamps.
- Mark Dean
Mark Dean is a well-known African American inventor and engineer. He is the co-creator of the IBM personal computer and holds three of the nine PC patents. Dean is also the first African-American to be named an IBM Fellow, a prestigious award given to leaders in science and technology who have made significant contributions to their fields.
He holds over 20 patents and led a design team that created a one-gigahertz computer processor chip that was faster than any other chip available at the time (2007).
- Otis Boykin
Otis was born in Texas on August 29, 1920. He is best known for developing the first cardiac pacemaker and other life-saving medical devices. Otis’ mother died of heart failure when he was just one year old.
During World War II, Otis’ most famous achievement was the invention of an electrical resistor, which was used in computing machines as well as missile guidance systems; he patented as many as 26 devices during his lifetime.
- Patricia Era Bath
Patricia Era Bath was an ophthalmologist, inventor, and humanitarian from the United States. She was born in New York on November 4, 1942.
In 1986, she patented an improved device for laser cataract surgery. She was the first African-American woman doctor to be granted a medical patent, and she was also the first African-American woman surgeon at UCLA Medical Center. Her death occurred on May 30, 2019, at the age of 76.
- Marie Van Brittan Brown
Marie Van Brittan Brown was born in New York on October 30, 1922. She invented a video home security system in 1966 and later on patented it in 1969. Thank Marie Van Brittan Brown if you had a home security system installed today.
She died on February 2, 1999, at the age of 76.
African American inventors have made numerous significant contributions to medicine, technology, and engineering, among other fields. From Alexander Miles and George Washington Carver to Patricia Era Bath and Marie Van Brittan Brown, these innovators have made an indelible mark on the world and inspired others to follow in their footsteps. Their innovations and inventions have improved people’s lives, opened new research avenues, and contributed to the creation of a better world for future generations.
Which African American inventors did we miss out on? Let us know in the comment section.
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