Black people have always been intelligent. They were always creative and innovative. Their talents were manifested through their handiwork. They knew how to do stuff that was pleasing to the eyes of invention. In actual facts, the historic, black and white picture of invention would have been different with many white inventors like Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, Willis Carrier, Henry Ford, the Wright brothers and Thomas Edison at the left side. Beauty will then be added to the right side with the black pixels shown by the presence of many black inventors, few who had “fame” as a tag on their shoulder. Some of these black inventors are Charles Drew, William S. Grant, Alexander Miles and et cetera. Unfortunately, the picture is just an illusion because the legislation at the time (1700s to 1800s most especially) did not favor the freedom of black people, let alone encourage them to bring inventions into the past world of few technological advances. According to a past white Maryland Politician, “Negro is not entitled to vote because he has never evidenced sufficient capacity to justify such a privilege, because not one black person [has] ever yet reached the dignity of an inventor”.
The rich and free blacks who had more education, time, freedom and mobility were able to patent more inventions than the slave man, however, this can never suggest that slaves were less creative to invent. The United States of America patent laws of 1793 stated “the master is the owner of the fruits of labor of the slave both manual and intellectual”. Due to this law and fact, many slave owners who were mostly whites took credit for the works of their slaves. An American Chief Justice during the 1800s said that black people were not citizens of the United States. They were property and, therefore, they had no rights in America which white people “were bound to respect”. Benjamin T Montgomery who invented a boat propeller, could not obtain a patent because he was a slave. In spite of all these obstacles that stood in the light of the beautiful picture of the black invention story, some few black people made it to the Invention spotlight. Here they are:
Thomas L Jennings (1791-1859)
You can not mention the history of black inventions without adding Thomas L Jennings. He was the first African American to be granted a patent. On 3rd March, 1821, he received a patent after he developed a turpentine-based fluid used to clean clothing. The process he developed for cleaning clothes was called “dry scouring”.
Alexander Miles (1838-1918)
Have you ever gone to any first to third class hotel or moderate public building? Did you see an elevator? If yes, did you ever wonder, who ever came up with such an idea to solve my problem of walking down and up the stairs? I guess, the answer to all these questions will be “Yes” most especially if it comes from a fat person working at the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai. Fortunately for the black people, Alexander Miles made the history of invention rich by inventing the elevator.
William Purvis (1948)
William Purvis invented an improvement to the fountain pen created by Petrache Poenaru. The pen designed by Purvis made it unnecessary to dip a pen into an inkwell after writing. He also developed a hand stamp, a hand held device with letters carved in rubber and attached to a handle.
A blacksmith named Ned, owned by Oscar J E Stuart developed a cotton scraper that his master tried to patent. Stuart loosed a court case to receive patent to this invention because he wasn’t able to truthfully certify that the invention was his own.
David A. Fishner
David A. Fishner invented a furniture caster (March 14, 1876 Patent #174,794) that was a great improvement on previous designs. Today, people can move refrigerators, pianos and couches with the help of casters.
Stephen Slade was a slave who worked on his master’s tobacco farm. One day, Slade was curing a batch of tobacco by hanging the leaves on coal until they were dried into a deep brown color. Slade mistakenly fell asleep and the slow smoldering fire turned the color of the leaves to yellow. When the yellow tobacco was taken to the market, it brought four times the usual price. Unfortunately, Stephen Slade’s owner became the most celebrated tobacco owner. His owner was often invited to lecture people on tobacco curing techniques. One has to wonder, what was this man lecturing students on?
John Lee Love (1889-1931)
Everyone in the 21st Century who had any form of formal education will certainly be grateful to John L Love because he made the usage of a pencil much easier. Initially, blades were used in sharpening pencils when the tips went bad. J L Love who did a lot of writing was slowed down every time he had to stop and whittle a sharp point on his pencil. This caused him to invent a pencil sharpener.
Sarah Boone (1832-1904)
Do you necessarily have to clear your learning desk before ironing your clothes to work? Do you have to spread a cloth on the ground before pressing your attire? You will have waste pains which may eventually be detrimental to your responsibility of satisfying your wife’s libido in bed, that’s if you are a man. If I have an opinion poll on who invented the problem solving ironing board, the answer will certainly be a white man. This is because people have come to a consensus over the years that the white man is the prime inventor. Most shockingly will it be for someone to find out that a black woman invented the ironing board.
George Grant (1847-1910)
Many might think Tiger Woods is the only remarkable epitome of black history when it comes to the golf sport due to his many achievements comprising of his 79 official PGA Tour events win, PGA Player of the year – 11 times and et cetera.
But I ask, how will it be possible for Woods to play golf effectively without a golf tee? George Grant invented the golf tee (a tiny wooden peg with a rubber top) that keeps the golf ball from rolling when one tries to hit it. ( Patent was granted on 12th December, 1899).
Norbert Rillieux (1806-1894)
The Sugar and Shoe manufacturing industries of the late 1800s owed their success in part to the two pioneer African American inventors Norbert Rillieux and Jan Ernst Matzeliger. Rillieux’s system was considered as the foundation for all modern industrial sugar evaporation but very few people knew he was black.
There are many other black inventors like W Johnson whose eggbeater is much like a modern day whisk.
Sarah Goode who invented a folding cabinet bed (1885) .
J Lee developed a machine that mixed, rolled and mould the dough in one operation.
In 1896, Julia Hammonds developed a yarn holder.
L P Ray patented an industrial-sized dustpan on 3rd August, 1897.This was used in picking large amounts of trash.
The mop was invented by Thomas W Stewart and received a patent on June 13, 1893.
JM Certain designed a basket (December 26, 1899 – patent date) that was attached to the handlebars of bicycles to allow the act of carrying stuff.
Eli Whitney‘s famous cotton gin used to clean cotton like most inventions, was based on earlier ideas from slaves.
An Alabama slave, Hezekiah, invented a cotton-cleaning machine around 1825 and an unidentified slave in Kentucky is said to have invented the hemp-brake machine.
Ebar, a slave in Massachusetts, invented a new technique around 1800 for making brooms from broom corn.
Henry Boyd developed a new wooden bed frame with wooden rails that could be screwed into the headboard and the end board simultaneously creating a stronger frame. He manufactured the Boyd Bed at his factory in Cincinnati, Ohio until 1863.Arsonists twice burnt his factory and twice he rebuilt it. In 1863, Boyd unfortunately had to close his doors when he could no longer afford fire insurance. Currently, Boyd’s beds have great value as antiques and museums all over the world seek to include one in their collections.
John Parker (1827-1900) invented the tobacco screw press in 1854, this invention was used to compress the tobacco leaves into a more manageable bundle for shipment.
Lewis Temple (1800-1854) designed the toggle harpoon used by whalers to hunt whales in his time.
James Forten (1766-1842) developed a sail-handling device that was particularly useful in rough waters. He was an outspoken critic of slavery and took action by deciding not to install his sail-handling device on any slave ship.
John Maslow was a well-respected ship builder who designed his own ships.
George Peake (1772-1827) invented a stone hand-mill.
Henry Blair was granted a patent for a corn harvestor on October 14, 1836 just a year before John Deere manufactured the first steel reservoir plow.
There are many other inventors who had enough melanin on their skins. But there is never much space, time and resources for me to include them.
Wherever they are now, the black race and the Generic people who admire innovation and invention are proud of them.
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