Monday, July 15, 2024

Black Inventors List: The 10 Most Famous Black Inventors



Black inventors have made significant contributions throughout history in shaping the world we live in today. Their innovation and brilliance have led to groundbreaking advancements in technology, science, and other areas, leaving a lasting impact on society. In this blog post, we’ll provide you with the top ten most popular Black inventors list and what they invented. 

1. Garrett Morgan: Three-Light Traffic Signal in 1923 

Garrett Augustus Morgan. Image source: Wikimedia licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0

Garret Morgan kicks off our black inventors list. With just elementary education, Garrett Morgan, an African-American inventor who lived from 1877-1963, made several important inventions, including the traffic signal and the Safety Hood. The safety hood was an early version of the gas mask designed to aid breathing in areas filled with harmful substances and smoke. 

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Morgan received a patent for his gas mask in 1914. That same year, he established the National Safety Device Company. The gas mask invention earned Morgan the first prize at the Second International Exposition of Safety and Sanitation in New York City In 1916.

In 1923, Morgan built an improved version of the traffic signal. His traffic light signal featured a three-position signal with stop, go, and a caution signal in between. He received three patents in the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. But he eventually sold the rights to General Electric for $40,000.

2. Alexander Miles: Automatic Elevator Doors in 1887

Born in 1838 in Ohio, United States, Alexander Miles was an African-American inventor and businessman. He made it to the black inventors’ list by creating an elevator door that could automatically open and close. Alexander received U.S. patent 371207 on October 11, 1887. Before his invention, the doors of elevators had to be closed manually, usually by assigned operators. 

Alexander improved this technology by developing a flexible belt attachment to the elevator cage and drums installed to show when the elevator gets to the floor. The belt permits automatic opening and closing when the elevator reaches the drums on the respective floors through levers and rollers.

3. George Washington Carver: Over 300 Food From Peanuts

Nicknamed the “Black Leonardo” by TIME Magazine in 1941, George Washington Carver is one of the most famous figures in early 20th-century African American history. His work at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama is considered instrumental in transforming Southern approaches to agriculture. 

However, Carver is best known for developing hundreds of different products using the materials of sweet potatoes, peanuts, and soybeans. His famous inventions include planting different crops to restore soil fertility rather than single-crop farming. He also discovered 300 other uses for peanuts. 

4. Mark Dean Co-Invented Color IBM PC Monitor and Gigahertz Chip in 1980 and 1999

Mark Dean began working for International Business Machines (IBM) as a chief engineer in the early 1980s, and he helped the company develop many landmark technologies, including the color P.C. monitor and the first gigahertz chip. 

Dean and Dennis Moeller, his co-inventor, also developed a microcomputer system using bus control means for output processing devices. This innovation helped facilitate the growth of the Information Technology market by permitting the use of plug-in subsystems and peripherals, such as video gear, disk drives, speakers, and scanners. Dean holds three of IBM’s original nine patents

5. Percy Lavon Julian Synthesized the Drug Physostigmine

Born April 11, 1899, in Montgomery, Alabama, Percy Lavon Julian was a pioneering chemist. He could not attend high school (because there were none open to black people) but went on to earn his Ph.D. Julian’s research at academic and corporate institutions paved the way for the chemical synthesis of drugs to treat glaucoma and arthritis. 

In 1973, Percy Lavon Julian became the second black chemist to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Julian was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990. Then in 1999, the American Chemical Society named his synthesis of physostigmine among the top 25 achievements in the history of American chemistry.

6. Richard Spikes Invented Automatic Gear Shift in 1932

Richard Spikes was a famous inventor with eight patents to his name. He received these patents between 1907 and 1946. 

Although primarily interested in automobile mechanics, Richard Spikes also sought to improve the operation of trolley cars and barber chairs. Professionally Spikes worked as a saloon keeper, a mechanic, and a barber. These were occupations that influenced his several inventions. 

Richard Spikes was known for his automatic gear shift, which he patented in December 1932. He invented the gear shift to help keep the gears constant for different speeds. Besides the gear shift, he made several other inventions, such as a beer tapper, a self-locking rack for billiard cues, and a brake-testing machine. 

7. George T. Sampson: the Clothes Dryer in 1892

George T. Sampson was an African-American inventor who was best known for his early patent of the automatic clothes dryer in 1892. His clothes dryer invention, with U.S. patent #476,416, was a frame that helped suspend clothing above a stove so that it dried more quickly. 

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Before his invention, clothes dyers were formerly invented in France and England. And they were in the form of ventilators, which were basically barrels with holes in them. The barrels would be turned by hand over a fire. 

Although Sampson’s invention was also a ventilator, it removed the need for an open flame and used frames instead of a barrel. Besides the clothes dryer, Sampson also invented a sled propeller.

8.  Phillip Downing: Mailbox in 1891

Philip Downing was best known for his two key inventions, operating street railway switches and the street letter box. The United States Patent Office gave the green light to him for an innovative upgrade in Street-Railway Switches on June 17, 1890. His invention permitted the switches to be opened or closed using a brass arm that’s found next to the brake handle on the car’s platform.

On October 27, 1891, Downing also received two patents for a street letter box. Before his street letter invention, those who wanted to send mail usually had to visit the post office. But his black-owned invention allowed for drop off near one’s home and easy pick-up by a letter carrier.

9. Thomas Elkins: Refrigerated Apparatus in 1872

Thomas Elkins is a trained medical professional, abolitionist, and inventor. He has many inventions to his name. But he was popularly known for inventing a chamber commode in 1872. 

Elkins also built a device that assisted with the job of preserving perishable foods by way of refrigeration. He received a patent for this refrigerated device on November 4, 1879.

Before Thomas Elkins invented his refrigerated device, perishable foods were preserved by putting them in a large container and placing large blocks of ice around them. 

Unfortunately, the ice melted away quickly, and the food soon perished. Elkins’ invention solved this problem by providing a convenient container and method of chilling using the evaporation of water. And this makes him a crucial innovator in our black inventors list.

10. Lewis Latimer: Carbon Light Bulb Filament in 1881

Thomas Edison perfected the light bulb invention itself. But, the innovation used to create durable light bulbs with a carbon filament came from Lewis Latinier.

Lewis started working in a patent law firm when he finished serving in the military for the Union during the Civil War. He was spotted for his ability to draft patents and was promoted to lead draftsman. It was in this position that he co-designed an upgraded bathroom for railroad trains.

His success further made the U.S. Electric Lighting Company to notice him, which put him in a company that was in direct competition with Thomas Edison. While working with the U.S. Electric Lighting Company, Latimer received a patent for a new filament for the light bulb that uses carbon rather than more ignitable materials, such as bamboo, that was popularly used for filaments.

The contributions of the ten most famous innovators covered in this black inventors list post have left an indelible mark on black history. Their innovative spirit, determination, and perseverance have shattered barriers. And transformed industries, and paved the way for future generations. Their achievements serve as a powerful reminder that diversity and inclusion fuel innovation and progress. 

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Uchenna Agwu
Uchenna Agwu
Hi there! I’m Uchenna Agwu, and I love to write. When I’m not writing, you can usually find me reading books or watching documentaries (I’m a bit of a nerd). But I also like to get out and explore – whether that means going on hikes or checking out new restaurants.


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