AFRICAN AMERICAN INVENTION: DISMISSED, UNRECOGNIZED AND SOMETIMES FORGOTTEN
Some of America’s greatest inventions came from African American invention - but you may not know that. With the subjective portrayal of the history of the US - along with a long-living bias in some people - recognition of African American invention is far from the mainstream.
Sure - you may be aware of some few of this inventor group - but I am sure that you (as so was I) are not aware of some of the monumental inventions offered to America by Black invention.
One of the most famous contributors to African American invention was George Washington Carver. Without him, some college students would starve! And P&J sandwiches would not be available for kids lunches.
George Washington Carver helped save the Southern farmer by introducing the planting of peanuts (legumes) as a rotating crop to restore nutrients that the cash crops of tobacco and cotton sucked from the earth. When the farmers - who were happy with their increased yields - began to complain because they had too many peanuts and didn’t know what to do with them - GWC came up with PEANUT BUTTER - and about 300 other uses for the peanut. The South was saved by a former slave.
Garrett Morgan was another contributor to African American invention. He saved lives by inventing the gas mask, which was a staple in WWI - and the automatic stoplight, which saved lives on the american road.
Then there is Elijah McCoy. though trained as an engineer - because of his color he could only get a job on the railroad as a fireman/oilman. His job was to stoke the engine with coal - and manually lubricate various moving parts on the engine and train so it could continue to move. At the time, the train would have to stop every few miles to be lubricated or the parts would freeze.
McCoy came up with the “lubricating cup” - an automatic lubricator that took the place of manual lubrication. Train companies loved it. So did others that tried to get in on the profits. McCoy had up to 60 imitators - that did not do as good a job as the McCoy lubricating cup. So - train companies started demanding “the Real McCoy.” The phrase continues to exist in American speech today.
Another example of African American invention is Lewis Latimer. Ever heard of him? Well, he was the draftsman that worked with Alexander Graham Bell in drawing up the patent for the telephone - that beat a competitor by hours in filing for a patent. without his dedication and work into the night - the inventor of the telephone may have been someone else.
In addition - Latimer made the light bulb better. While Thomas Edison had worked for years to get the light bulb to work - his bulb would only burn for a matter of hours. Latimer came up and patented a process to make a carbon filament which burned longer and made the product commercially feasible. Latimer became a consultant to many cities - including London - on the installation of electric lights.
Latimer did work for Edison - and Edison encouraged him to write the book Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System. The book was extremely popular - because it explained the process of electricity to a somewhat ignorant public. A grand example of African American invention.
Then there was the African American invention that revolutionized shoe manufacturing. In the late 1800’s, shoes were mainly manufactured by hand. The customer’s feet were duplicated in a stone or wooden form called a “last.” the leather was formed around the last - and then the sole was attached to the upper by skilled craftsmen. Shoe lasters had great power in the shoe industry - and could shut down operations to gain what they wanted - putting whole factories out of work.
Jan Ernst Matzeliger happened to work for one of the companies and did not like being out of work. He developed an automatic lasting machine that turned out 150-700 pairs of shoes a day - compared to 50 from a master laster. This African American invention has been considered “the greatest forward step in the shoe industry” and "the most important invention for New England." Unfortunately, while the lasting machine brought much profit to the industry, Matzeliger did not share in the wealth. He had spent too many hours developing his machine without proper nutrition. A cold led to tuberculosis - and he died at age 37.
Black women are part of African American invention. Dr. Patricia Bath’s passionate dedication to the treatment and prevention of blindness led her to develop the Cataract Laserphaco Probe.
The probe, patented in 1988, is designed to use the power of a laser to quickly and painlessly vaporize cataracts from patients’ eyes, replacing the more common method of using a grinding, drill-like device to remove the afflictions. With another invention, Bath was able to restore sight to people who had been blind for over 30 years. Patricia Bath also holds patents for her African American invention in Japan, Canada, and Europe.
Dr. Bath has been nominated to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
These are but a few examples of African American invention. For more information and background on the Top Ten African American Inventors - as well as other Black inventors you can find it here:
And here is a list of African American invention with their inventors:
An impressive list. Enough said. Of course, you can Google any of these names and/or inventions for more information on African American invention.