African American Inventors You Should Know. From trailblazing activists to transcendent authors, and stars of our favorite Netflix movies, Black culture permeates our everyday lives. Black History Month is as good a time as any to learn about a handful of famous and little known African American inventors whose creations changed our world. From the Super Soaker, peanut butter, and caller ID, here’s a little history to remember during February and beyond.
Crum, a chef and restaurateur is said to have unintentionally created the potato chip during the summer of 1853 when a customer sent back their fried potatoes after complaining they were too thick. The crisps were an instant hit, and though Crum never patented the creations, chips are definitely one of world’s favorite snacks.
Granville T. Woods
Woods was an engineer who accumulated nearly 60 patents during his lifetime (1856-1910) many of which improved the functioning of railroads, notably the first electricity powered railway and the induction telegraph system, which allowed traveling trains to communicate with one another.
George Washington Carver
So many of us know George Washington Carver as the man famous for giving us peanut butter but he’s responsible for much more. As an agricultural chemist in an effort to increase the profitability of sweet potatoes and peanuts (which thrived in the South as opposed to dwindling cotton supply), Carver began conducting experiments in 1896 and created 518 new products from the crops. They include ink, dye, soap, cosmetics, flour, vinegar, and synthetic rubber. He publicly revealed his experiments in 1914.
Madam CJ Walker
Madam CJ Walker was the first African American woman to become a self-made millionaire after creating a line of hair products geared towards Black hair. (She created the first, “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower,” in 1905). If you haven’t already seen it, Netflix has a series based upon her life, Self Made.
Garret Morgan’s most prominent original design is indeed the traffic light signal Take his traffic signal, which he patented in 1922. It was the first to offer a third “caution” signal, which we now know as the yellow light. And in 1912, Morgan received a patent for his “Breathing Device,” which was one of the earliest versions of a gas mask.
Percy Lavon Julian
American chemist, Percy Lavon Julian, made various vital contributions to modern medicine as a result of experimenting with soybeans. He synthesized a drug called physostigmine, which is used to treat glaucoma. Julia also discovered how to mass produce cortisone and the steroid progesterone, which was used to produce sex hormones.
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner patented the sanitary belt in 1957, which was adjustable and had a moisture proof napkin pocket in a time where women were still using cloth pads. She also created a serving tray that could be attached to a walking frame, a toilet tissue holder, and back washer that could be mounted on the wall of the shower.
Marie Van Brittan Brown
Brown filed a patent in 1966 for the first-ever home security system after wanting to increase her own house’s security in her Queens, New York neighborhood. Her original design contained a camera, two-way microphone, peepholes, and monitors, all serving as the foundations for today’s modern systems.
In 1986, Bath, an ophthalmologist and laser scientist, invented laserphaco—a device and technique used to remove cataracts and revive patients’ eyesight. It is now used internationally.
Shirley Ann Jackson
Jackson, the first African American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT, is responsible for monumental telecommunications research that led to the invention of products such as the touch-tone phone, portable fax, fiber optic cables, and caller ID. In 2014 President Barack Obama named her the co-chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory.