Celebrating Black History Month- Part 2: Black Innovators Throughout American History

Most of us know of George Washington Carver, the inventor of peanut butter, but there are countless other Black innovators throughout the history of the U.S. that have not been given the recognition they deserve. How many of us know that we have Black inventors to thank for home security, voicemail, blood banks, ironing board, and most importantly, the potato chip? These innovations are made even more impressive when given the context. Throughout the majority of the twentieth century, when many of these inventions were created, the United States was segregated. These scientists, entrepreneurs, and innovators not only created cutting-edge technology and materials, but they did so with less resources and access to knowledge than their White counterparts. Below I name just a few of the most notable Black American inventors. Note that this short list barely begins to scratch the surface of technological and social contributions made by Black Americans.

 

 

Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was an astronomer, mathematician, farmer, and author is best known for his creation of the wooden clock. It kept perfect time for four decades and was known by many as the first ever clock in the New World.

 

Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922-1999) was an inventor from Queens, NY. She created the world's first home security system so that she would not have to open the door to see who was on the other side. This system was quite elaborate and allowed the owner to monitor what was being done outside their front door on a monitor as well as open their front door with a remote control instead of manually.

 

George Crum (1824-1914) was a renowned chef who *accidentally* invented the best food known to mankind: the potato chip.

 

Dr. Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950) was a medical researcher and surgeon who became an expert in the area of blood transfusions and vastly improved techniques for blood to be stored. Thanks to his research, blood banks were created, and thousands of lives were saved during World War II. He was also an influential voice in the protest against racial segregation in blood donations during the war.

 

Fredrick McKinley Jones (1893-1961) was an entrepreneur and inventor from Cincinnati, OH. In his lifetime, he received over 60 patents for his many inventions, but his best-known invention is the refrigeration technology used in semi-trucks. Basically, he is the reason most of your favorite food trucks and AmazonFresh are able to exist.

 

Mary Davidson Kenner (1912-2006) was a florist-turned-inventor who is most well-known for her invention of the sanitary belt. She created the sanitary belt in the late 1920's, but the belt was not introduced to the public for another 30 years because no company was willing to credit this invention to an African-American woman. In other words, women were either confined inside or shamed for using the "indecent" tampon during their menstrual cycle until Kenner's invention was made public. She also invented an improved toilet paper holder and carrier tray attachment to the walker.

Bessie Blount Griffin (1914-2009) was a physical therapist and forensic scientist who worked to rehabilitate many soldiers who had returned from WWII and had lost a limb. She invented an electric apparatus that helped amputees to feed themselves. After the American Veterans Association refused her invention, she sold it to the French government instead.