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15 BLACK INVENTORS. THE BLACK FOUNDING FATHERS OF INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY

By March 4, 2024No Comments

Man has come a long way. From being clueless neandethal man to growing in innovation and technology. We became the apex predator of this planet not by bronz, and strength alone, but by our high intelligence and technological advancements. But for a long time, only people from a particular race were seen as having this intelligence.

After the famous voyage of Christopher Columbus, a sad and debilitating experience plagued Africa. white men from the other end of the coast came to take Africans as slaves and subject them to inhumane practices. These colored people were taken to be unintelligent and barbaric cavemen by whites, and they forced their inclinations on Africans and even blacks began to see themselves as lacking intelligence. But even with the repressed situations in which black people found themselves, they were able to defend themselves by showing humankind that black people are as human as every other person out there, and that they were equally as intelligent as white men.

In commemoration of black history month, Koma Club will be bringing to you 15 inventors of African descent. The article will further introduce these black founding fathers of innovation and technology, their plights and challenges, and how their inventions brought mankind one step to civilization.

1 GARRETT MORGAN

Garrett Augustus Morgan Sr. Born March 4, 1877– July 27, 1963, was an Amazing inventor and businessman. Although born into the family of a former slave, and a life filled with adversaries, Garrett Morgan did not just show outstanding intelligence, he persevered and created devices that revolutionized human innovation and technological advancement. His most notable inventions were a three-way traffic light, a protective smoke mask, used in the 1916 tunnel construction disaster rescue, and his haircare product that revolutionized the fashion world, and became its own company, G.A Morgan Hair Refining Company.

2 Dr. CHARLES DREW

Dr. Charles Richard Drew was an astonishing surgeon whose impact on medicine saved the lives of millions of people in World War II. Born June 3, 1904 – April 1, 1950, the extraordinary surgeon researched developing and improving techniques for blood storage. Through his expert knowledge in blood transfusion and storage, he was able to develop large-scale blood banks and due to this new way of saving, harnessing, and preserving blood, allowed medics in World War II to save thousands of Allied forces’ lives. As the most prominent African American in his field, Drew did not hold back from fighting segregation and racism. Drew protested against the practice of segregation especially in the donation of blood. He also resigned from his position with the American Red Cross in other to push this agenda. Drew’s invention did not just save lives in the past, but it has continued to save countless lives to date.

3 FREDERICK MCKINLEY JONES

Frederick Mckinley Jones was an amazing inventor who surprisingly became a self-taught engineer. Born on May 17, 1893 – February 21, 1961, Frederick Jones’s life was riddled with adversaries. Jones had a million reasons to come out wrong. He never knew his black mother, and his Irish father who worked in the railroad struggled to take care of him alone. He was given to a father to take care of when he was eight years old, and two years later, his father died. Frederick Jones eventually dropped out after 6th grade and started odd jobs at a mechanic store. And from there on he learned to be an engineer all by himself. Frederick invented Refrigerated trucks and ingeniously, transformed the transportation industry. Thanks to his innovative refrigeration system, food can now be transported safely over long distances. Frederick through his inventions won the National Medal of Technology and was an inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He received 61 patents with 49 for his refrigeration Technology. He co-founded Themo King and also served as a sergeant in World War I

4. LEWIS HOWARD LATIMER

Lewis Howard Latimer was born on September 4, 1848 – December 11, 1928, into a large family of four kids, his parents were slaves at the time, and they had to escape to Chelsea to be free. Life was beyond hard for young Lewis, and it got worse when his father left in other not to put his family in danger, and his mom had to equally split the family. For him to make a name for himself, Lewis had to join the Navy at 16 years old and was eventually honorably discharged. Because of his service, he could now work as a freeman, and that opened the way to him becoming the renowned inventor that he became. His most notable inventions are the Carbon filament light bulb, the evaporative air conditioner, and his improved toilet system for railroad cars. Lewis continued to face tribulations in his life, especially since he became a prominent figure in civil rights activism. But he continued to scale through the waves of adversaries, not only illuminating homes of the houses his invention was used but also illuminating the path towards achieving equality.

5 LONNIE JOHNSON

Lonnie George Johnson was always a thinker from his childhood. Born October 6, 1949, at a time when racism and segregation were at their peak, Lonnie showed unparalleled intelligence from his childhood which earned him the nickname professor from his peers. Lonnie lived up to his name, facing challenges in his academics, representing his school in science fairs, and winning in places where he was the only black kid. As Lonnie developed into becoming an invaluable engineer he never forgot that young black kid he once was, and that was obvious in the biggest invention he created. Lonnie invented the Super Soaker water gun in 1989 after leaving NASA, and it became one of the world’s bestselling toys ever created. Lonnie Johnson’s journey from NASA engineer to toy, inventor embodies the spirit of creativity and exploration in him. His work brought joy to millions of children worldwide.

6 MARIE VAN BRITTAN BROWN

Marie Van Brittan Brown was among one of the most astounding inventors of her time. Born on October 30, 1922 – February 2, 1999, a time when black women were not allowed to gain education, Marie displayed intelligence that would stand the test of time. Marie did not get the educational background she needed, and because of that, she was only working as a nurse’s aide. Even though she wanted more for herself, she had not the idea of how to start, and the time to achieve what she wanted, but all that changed when she got married to Albert Brown. Albert Brown was an electronic technician and through him, Marie began to learn about the world of physics and engines, although her work as a nurse aide still took her time, Marie always made sure to assist her husband and through her endeavors, gained the knowledge she needed. In 1969, Marie along with her husband applied for a patent for their invention; a video home security system which was granted to her. Marie’s innovation started with protecting families, but in time, expanded beyond just home security. Today, every firm, financial institution, art gallery, etc, has a working security system, and that is thanks to the inventions of Marie Van Brittan Brown.

7 SARAH E. GOODE

Sara Elisabeth Goode Born in 1855 – April 8, 1905, was an outstanding inventor, and role model. Known as the first African American woman to receive a United States patent, Sarah went from being just a Carpenter to becoming the great inventor of the cabinet bed and effectively paved the way for other black women to follow. But was her journey easy? Not in the slightest. In a time when women were almost completely ignored, and black women were not even looked at, Sarah made a spectacular invention and fought to get it copyrighted, but the more she sent her design and invention, the more it was rejected. But even with these setbacks, Sarah never gave up. Every excuse they made not to accept her invention, she went back home and made it better, and in 1885, they had no choice but to give her what was due her, making her the first black woman to be given her patent. Sarah lived until 1905, but her invention never died it remains today.

8 GEORGE CRUM

George Speck later known as George Crum was born on July 15, 1824 – July 22, 1914, and he was an amazing chef, mythologised to have invented the potato chip. George worked as a hunter, a guide, and most importantly a cook, and he worked for years at the Moon’s Lake House. As a chef, George specialized mostly in wild and exotic meat, especially venison and duck, but later on, George left Moon’s Lake House and opened his establishment called Crums. His restaurant was popular among wealthy tourists and his reputation spread through to enthusiasts of good food all over the state. Among his dishes, George was known to always serve thinly sliced fried potatoes which subsequently took the name Sarstoga chips. Even though the first published recipe for potato chips dates back to the 19th century, after George died in 1914, various newspaper articles, as well as local histories of Saratoga County began to claim George as the inventor of the potato chip. This myth was so serious that it was featured in national advertising campaigns in the 1970s. George might have never thought his name would make it to the history books, but it did. The story of George Crum remains a model and motivation for young chefs today.

9 RICHARD SPIKES

Richard Brown Spike Born on October 2, 1878 – January 22, 1963, was a very successful barber in his time. He had earlier learned the venture from his father, and after getting married, he and his wife had moved to a whole new county, owning up to three shops, and were successful in their venture. But even with all his accomplishments, Richard wasn’t fulfilled. He wanted more for himself, he worked tirelessly to get it, and in the end, he made it to the history books. Richard’s notable works included; the automatic gear shift device, the automobile directional signal, and even the bear tap. Richard Spikes’s example shows individuals today that nothing is impossible if you work hard for it. Truly Richard’s legacy continues to drive progress in transportation technology.

10 PHILIP B. DOWNING

Philip B Downing was an African American inventor who lived from 1857-1934. Downing had a long career in Boston, Massachusetts as a postal clerk, and his work career shaped the inventions he made. Downing was well known for the invention of the mailbox. Although it wasn’t the first mailbox made, it became the standard for making mailboxes. He also invented an operating street railway switch. Downing’s invention simplified mail delivery, and also connected communities across distances. His contribution to communication infrastructure laid the groundwork for modern postal systems today.

11 JOSEPH WINTERS

Joseph Richard Winters was an African American inventor and abolitionist, who was born on August 29, 1824– November 29, 1916, to an African father who was a brickmaker and an Indian mother, who was popular for being the daughter of a healer. Joseph was popular among his peers for a lot of things. He was a farmer, a skilled fisherman, a hunter, a songwriter, a lyricist, a poet, and even a published writer, but more than anything Joseph Winters was an inventor. Joseph invented the fire escape ladder and earned his big break. Till today, Joseph’s invention provides a lifeline to those trapped in dangerous situations and a solution for forces in the fire service. Although most of Joseph’s literary works are gone with time, his invention lives with us and will continue to stand the test of time.

12 Dr. PATRICIA BATH

Dr Patricia Era Bath was a superwoman, who broke countless medical records and attained positions that were almost impossible for a black woman. Born on November 4, 1942 – May 30, 2019, to the family of Rupert and Gladys Bath. Young Patricia was at an early age, motivated to attain greatness, by her Trinidad father who was then a columnist, and later became the first black man to work for the New York City subway as a motorman. Patricia’s mother was also a descendant of slaves, but together, her parents wanted more for themselves and they motivated her to be better. Patricia and her younger brother grew to become very intelligent students, especially in chemistry and maths. Inspired by the French Nobel Peace Prize laureate Albert Schweitzer’s work in medicine. Bath applied for and won a National Science Foundation Scholarship while attending high school; which led her to a research project at Yeshiva University and Harlem Hospital Center, with what result? Patricia became one of the first female members of Jules Stein Eye Institute, the first African American woman to serve as a staff surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center, the first woman to lead a post-graduate training program in ophthalmology and the cherry on top, the first African American woman doctor to receive a patent for medical purposes, courtesy her laser phaco probe for treating or removing cataracts. Truly Dr. Patricia Bath is indeed a superwoman. Her groundbreaking medical device transformed the field of ophthalmology, restoring sight to millions of individuals. Her commitment to healthcare equity and her love and motivation drove her to innovate and save lives.

 

13 LLOYD P. RAY

Lloyd P. Ray is an African American inventor who was born in 1860. Although not much is known about the inventor, through his invention a lot can be deduced about him. Before Lloyd’s invention, anyone cleaning a room or hall simply swept dirt or trash out of a door or into a paper, with their hands getting dirty in the process. That was the motivation behind the dustpan invented by Lloyd P. Ray. He created a device with a metal plate and a short wooden handle which trash can be swept into and disposed of without getting the hands dirty. Lloyd’s invention might have been seen as trivial at his time, but it became a necessity for every household. His practical solution to a common problem readily impacted humanity, and can never die.

14 OSBOURNE DORSEY

Osbourne Dorsey was an African American inventor known to invent the doorknob and doorstop. This inventor lived in the 1870s. Not much is known about Osbourne, and many historians believe that he was probably a slave or freed slave, and that explains why little to nothing is known about this man. But one thing is clear. Like many other inventors, Osbourne was a thinker, and he sorted for solutions to common problems. Before his invention in 1878, many used different means to keep their doors shut, while many used latches and ropes to open and shut their doors. His invention took humans all over the world one step from barbarity into the civilized people we are today. His self-locking doors brought peace to the minds of homeowners worldwide, and his dedication to security and convenience continues to influence home designs today.

15 JESSE EUGENE RUSSELL

Jesse Eugene Russell was born on April 26, 1948, into an incredibly large family. Jesse had eight brothers and two sisters. He lived his life in a community deprived of amenities, and even though they never begged, they still were quite poor. Initially, Jesse was not interested in engineering. He was more interested in athletics but after attending a summer educational program at Fisk University in Nashville Tennessee, everything changed. Jesse now wanted to learn more, and his newfound hunger drove him in his pursuit of academic excellence. Russell continued his education at Tennessee State University[2] where he focused on electrical engineering. A Bachelor of Science Degree (BSEE) in Electrical Engineering was conferred in 1972 from Tennessee State University. As a top honor student in the School of Engineering, Russell became the first African American to be hired by AT&T Bell Laboratories directly from a Historically Black College or University (HBCUs)[3] and subsequently became the first African-American in the United States to be selected as the Eta Kappa Nu Outstanding Young Electrical Engineer of the Year in 1980. Jesse invented the first ever cellular wireless phone technology, and through his visionary work, laid the foundation for modern communication networks his invention transformed the way we connect and communicate with friends and family worldwide.

 

Humans have come a long way from clueless Neanderthal men to the superpower we are today. We have built this planet and made it our own through numerous inventions, and innovations in technology, and blacks like every other race of people, have given their quota to achieving civilization and technological advancements. Apart from the fifteen inventors mentioned above, countless other black inventors have brought about astonishing inventions in the time past, and they are also black inventors who have continued to invent more devices for us now. They might seem like nothing today, but who knows someday

, they too might find themselves in the history books.

 

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