Celebrating Black Inventors and their creations.

11

February

2021

We’re adding a Black History Month spin to Inventors Day this year, taking a moment to highlight some of the brilliant black inventors in history.

February 11th is a day to celebrate the innovators, risk-takers, and change makers during Inventor’s Day!  In honor of this celebration and February being Black History month, let us take some time to explore the black inventor history and highlight a few of the incredible innovations that black inventors have given us.

In line with the bulk of American history, black inventors faced many challenges that their white counterparts did not, such as the biases faced when applying for patent protection and the inability to pay steep patent fees or legal fees.  Some inventors concealed their race from the patent office and others partnered with white proxies when applying.

These hurdles, however did not keep these innovators from creating.  Through the perseverance and determination of generations of black inventors, we can now safely ride in an elevator, maneuver through traffic, bank blood, and so much more…

Thomas Jennings – dry cleaning method (1821)

*No picture available (patent destroyed in fire and no copies)

Let’s first rewind back to 1821 when Thomas Jennings became the first black inventor to receive a patent in the US.  Jennings creating the “dry scouring” dry cleaning method.  Unfortunately, there is not much information on this patent because the only known copy went up in flames along with 10,000 other patents in 1836.

Sarah Goode – Folding Cabinet bed (1885)

Folding cabinet bed patent by Sarah Goode.

After being born into slavery and enduring the times of the Civil War, Sarah Goode moved to Chicago, Illinois and opened a furniture store.  She recognized a need for more compact furniture for her customers with limited space.  Goode created the Cabined-bed, an invention that allowed the bed to stow away into a cabinet when not in use, and be pulled out when ready to go to sleep.  With this invention, Goode became the first black woman to receive a patent in the US.

Alexander Miles – Automated elevator doors (1887)

Patent image for automated elevator doors by Alexander Miles.

Prior to the late 19th century, elevator doors had to manually opened and closed.  Because sometimes occupants did not realize they had to close the doors themselves, people would fall out of the elevator and down the shaft.  Alexander Miles was on an elevator one day in 1887, when he recognized the need for a better solution and eventually created automated doors.  The invention was soon thereafter patented and still influences elevator mechanisms and design today.

Garrett Morgan – 3-light traffic light (1923)

Patent image for 3-light traffic light by Garrett Morgan.

Serial entrepreneur, Garrett Morgan, found himself tied up in a number of ventures.  He started as a sewing-machine repairman, opened his own repair shop, added a garment shop, started his own newspaper – The Cleveland Call, and was well-off enough to buy a car.  While driving in Cleveland, he noticed the large number of vehicle accidents that occurred because of the two-signal street lights.  Morgan recognized that the lights going directly from “Stop” to “Go” and vice versa, with no intermediary, did not allow driver’s enough time to react to the change.  As a result of this discovery, Morgan created the three-signal light that is still used today.

Charles Drew – blood preservation apparatus (1939)

Patent image for blood preservation apparatus by Charles Drew.

Dr. Charles Drew studied medicine at Colombia University in the 1930s.  During his time there, he became interested in the preservation of blood.  Drew discovered a method of separating red blood cells from plasma, which allowed the blood to be stored for a week.  This eventually created the first blood bank.

Frederick McKinley Jones – Refrigerated trucks (1940)

Patent image for Frederick McKinley Jones refrigerated trucks.

Entrepreneur, Frederick McKinley Jones was granted 22 patents during his lifetime, but one stands out among the others.  Jones created a way for transport trucks to have refrigerated sections.  This invention came in handy around the time of its creation when the refrigerated units were able to carry food, drinks, supplies, and even blood (maybe with the help of Drew’s apparatus) long distances without perishing.

James E. West – Electret Microphone

Image result for james west electret microphone patent

Dr. James E. West co-invented an electret microphone in 1964.  While this compact microphone was initially used in hearing aids and tape recorders, a similar version may be found in cell phones and cameras.

Lonnie G. Johnson – Super Soaker

Patent image for the Super Soaker by Lonnie G. Johnson.

Lonnie G. Johnson’s name may be found on over 120 patents, including for creations such as a thermo-electrochemical converter, wet diaper detector, digital distance measuring unit, and hair dryer curling apparatus.  Johnson has worked in the U.S. Air Force Mission Space Lab, as well as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. However, perhaps one of Johnson’s greatest contributions to society was his creation of the Super Soaker water gun (and many other water and foam bullet play guns).


This article was prepared and written by Abbie, WD’s IP Magizoologist.  Standard, hopefully familiar-sounding, disclaimer:  Any opinions expressed here are of the writer’s.  Any information provided is for educational or informative purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.


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Celebrating Black Inventors and their creations.

time to read: 6 min