An inventor is someone who discovers a new device, method or any other means from which, most of the time, the humanity is greatly benefited. Despite the decades of torture and slavery, few black, African-American inventors have succeeded in their quest to do the same. With the help of the following list, we tried to pay homage to those inventors who are either forgotten or lesser known, without whom we would certainly miss a few important things in our daily life. Below are the 15 greatest black inventors that changed the world with their minds.
15. Lonnie Johnson
Image Courtesy: Office of Naval Research
Contribution: Super Soaker Gun (toy)
Have you ever played with the Super Soaker? I am sure you did, but do you know who invented it? The idea of a pressurized water toy/gun was first conceived by a NASA and US Air Force engineer Lonnie Johnson. After formulating the water gun, he applied and successfully received a US patent in 1986. Since then Lonnie Johnson has more than 80 patents for his various inventions.
The Super Soaker became an instant hit on the markets, generating more than $200 million in sales in 1991. Shortly after that, he devices other improvements and upgrades to the Super Soaker. In 2013, Hasbro Inc., the legal owner of Lonnie Johnson’s invention paid him $73 million of due royalties.
14. Jan Ernst Matzeliger
Contribution: Shoe making machine
Jan Ernst Matzeliger was born in Paramaribo, the capital city of Dutch Guiana, where his father operated the Colonial Shipworks. At the age of 19, he left his home to work on a merchant ship of the Dutch East Indies company and then settled in Philadelphia, USA. It was during this time he learned about the shoe trade and made his mind that he will dedicate his life to this industry.
After nearly five years of tireless work and dedication, Matzeliger was finally able to obtain a US patent for a shoe making machine that could produce from 200 to 700 pairs of finished shoes in a single day. But the success came at a price. He used to work days and hours without eating food which later caused him some serious health problems. Matzeliger died of tuberculosis in 1889.
13. Elijah McCoy
Contribution: Steam engines lubricators
Elijah J. McCoy, a Canadian-American engineer, who is most famously known for his important contribution in lubrication of steam engines. McCoy’s created a type of lubricator, which automatically direct oil to various parts of a steam engine such as the cylinders, bearings and axle box mounting to keep them functioning properly without halting, thus increasing its profitability.
12. Frederick McKinley Jones
Contributions: Improvements in refrigeration
We sure love cheese and other dairy products, but it wouldn’t be available to us if weren’t for this man, Frederick McKinley Jones. In 1935 he fabricated a revolutionary portable air-cooling unit for trucks and vehicles carrying diary and other perishable food, for which he received a patent in 1940. Based on his success he cofounded Thermo King Corporation, a temperature control unit company for trucks.
During his lifetime, he claimed a total of 61 patents, mostly for his portable refrigeration machine, while other are for portable X-ray machines, sound equipment, and gasoline engines. Jones became the first person of African heritage to be elected into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers in 1944 and in the 1950’s he was appointed as a consultant to the Bureau of Standards and US DOD.
11. George Washington Carver
Contribution: Alternative crops technique
Mr. George Carver was born to a poor slave family in Missouri. In spite of his poor economic status, he was able to get a quality education, which was unsurprisingly restricted to the African-Americans at that time. He completed his masters from the Iowa State Agricultural Collage in botany.
After completing his studies, he went on to work for a company, where he assigned improve agricultural conditions of a land in southeastern Alabama. There he implemented various crop rotation techniques which helped farmers to improve their crop yield while maintaining the soil potency at the same time.
10. Thomas L. Jennings
Contribution: Dry Scouring
After receiving a patent for his “dry scouring” process, which was used for cleaning cloths, from New York he became the first African-American person to get a patent under his own. After being born in a free black family, Jennings successfully operated a tailor and dry cleaner business. Sometime in the year 1821, he came up with a quite unique cleaning process, for which he was granted a patent.
9. Lewis Howard Latimer
Contributions: An improved toilet system, Improved method for producing carbon filaments
After running away from his master, and a short employment in the United States Navy, Lewis Howard Latimer became an employee of a patent law firm. Here he learned patent law and soon became one the finest draftsmen in the business. Along side his role in famous patent fillings such as Bell’s telephone and Edison’s bulbs, he is also known for several inventions. One of such invention was an enhanced process of manufacturing carbon filaments which were used in lightbulbs.
7. Marie Van Brittan Brown
Contribution: Home security systems
Can you imagine your home, office space without surveillance systems? I think we all know the answer to that. And that’s what Mari Van Brittan Brown, an African-American inventor thought before coming up with a concept of security system, where cameras can be used to monitor every movement outside her house.
What started as a gadgetry, only for domestic use, quickly became popular in workplaces as small and big companies started using the same concept of surveillance on their properties. While her original idea consisted of just a camera, a monitor and a microphone (two-way) and several peepholes, it certainly inspired today’s sophisticated security mechanisms. For her ingenious invention, Brown was awarded by the National Science Committee.
6. Patricia Bath
Contributions: Laserphaco Probe (used for treating cataracts)
Born in Harlem, Manhattan Dr. Patricia Bath is the first female doctor to acquire a product patent for medical purpose. In 1981, she devised a medical instrument known as Laserphaco Probe, which increases the performance of laser devices during cataract operations. The device quickly became a standard to treat cataract condition which is now internationally used. She currently holds four different patents related to this device.
5. George Robert Carruthers
George Carruthers (center) with members of the Lunar Surface Ultraviolet Camera
Contribution: Ultraviolet spectrograph
George Robert Carruthers is an African-American physicist and inventor, who spent most of his time in U.S Naval Research laboratory in the US capital. While working for the U.S NRL, he devised the far ultraviolet spectrograph/ camera, which was effectively used in the Apollo 16 mission. Before this, Dr. Carruthers invented an electromagnetic Image converter,” for which he received his first patent.
In 2013, he was awarded with the National Medal of Technology of 2012, by former US president Barack Obama. Robert Carruthers is currently an honorary member multiple scientific societies, including the American Astronomical Society, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the American Geophysical Union, and the National Society of Black Physicists.
4. Otis Boykin
Contribution: Various electrical resistors and control unit of cardiac pacemaker
Otis Frank Boykin was born in Dallas, Texas, to an average family. During his lifetime, he acclaimed 28 different patents. One of his early inventions was an improved electrical resistor which is used in computers, television and other electronic devices. Otis Boykin lost her mother due to heart failure, when he was just over a year old, which inspired him to device CU of an artificial pacemaker.
3. Annie Malone
Contribution: Cosmetics and Hair care products
Annie Malone was an American inventor and a businesswoman, who curated one of the most successful commercial product line of cosmetics especially for the needs of African-American women. Her childhood interest in both chemistry and hair care lead her to develop her own line of hair care products.
Soon, her company started producing various cosmetic products such as special oils, hair straighteners, and other hair care related products. She eventually became a successful promoter and a business woman. By 1914, her business was already worth over million dollars.
2. Dr. Shirley Jackson
Dr. Shirley Jackson alongside former US president Barack Obama Image Courtesy: president.rpi.edu
Contribution: Valuable researches on fiber optic cables and important cell technologies
Shirley Jackson is perhaps one of the most prominent women physicists and engineer in the United states. Dr. Jackson became the first women of African descent to claim a doctorate from the MIT, and only the second African-American female in the country to earn a PhD in physics.
Although, she is not an acclaimed inventor, during her time AT&T Bell Laboratories, she headed many of researched projects that largely helped other inventors to develop those technologies which includes touch-tone telephone, fiber optic cables, caller ID tech, and much more.
1. Mark E. Dean
IBM Personal Computer model 5150
Contribution: 16 bit ISA bus and one-gigahertz computer processor chip
Do you remember IBM’s original personal computers in the 1980s? Yes, that bulky system with RGBi monitor display and a maximum memory of 256 KB? Well, if you do, then you should thank computer scientist Mark E. Dean for this machine. Born in Jefferson City, Tennessee, Mark Dean started showing glimpses of his love for technology since his childhood days.
After graduating from the university of Tennessee, he went on to Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and then received Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Stanford University. During his time at IBM, Dean along with other researchers developed the 16 bit internal bus or ISA bus for IBM PC.
He was also one of the computer scientists who help designing the first gigahertz chip. To this date, Mark E. Dean holds over 20 different patents for his various inventions. For his efforts, Mark Dean was inducted into the 1997’s National Inventors Hall of Fame.