In honor of Black History “Month,” which- for me- is actually Black History Daily, I compiled this partial list of important but little known inventions and ingenious innovations by Black men and women.
Air Conditioner Unit Design
Frederick Jones 4/28/42 Patent Date
Art Museum and Free Library Design
Julian Abele 4/29/1881 Birth Date
Abele (pronounced “able”) was the Chief Designer at the prestigious Horace Trumbauer and Associates architectural firm from 1938-50. He attended the Institute for Colored Youth, which has since been transformed into Cheyney University, and in 1904 was the first Black to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture.
Clothes Drier- Modern Forerunner
George Sampson 6/7/1892 Patent Date
Dry Cleaning Process
Thomas Jennings 3/3/1821 Patent Date
Jennings is the first Black to receive a U.S. patent. After earning money from his patent, he used those funds to buy his enslaved family’s freedom and to support the abolition movement. In 1831, he served as the Assistant Secretary for the First Annual Convention of The People of Color (which was held in Philadelphia).
Dr. George Grant 12/12/1899 Patent Date
Prior to this invention by Dr. Grant (who graduated from and later taught at Harvard Dental School), golfers had to use their hands to make a mound of sand and then place the ball on top of that mound. Despite his ingenuity that greatly benefited golfers worldwide, he was barred- and still would be barred- from many country clubs because of his race.
Heating Furnace- Ventilation System
Alice Parker 12/19/19 Patent Date
This invention provided a mechanism for routing heat to various rooms throughout a building.
Ice Cream- Method and Recipes
Augustus Jackson 1832 Patent Date
Jackson, a Philadelphian and a former White House chef, uniquely used ice mixed with salt to lower and control the temperature of his special mix of ingredients, which proved to be a major breakthrough in the creation of ice cream as we know it today. He also created various ice cream flavors. However, he never applied for a patent.
(The) “Real McCoy”
Elijah McCoy 4/2/1843 Birth Date
The term “The Real McCoy” is used to describe anything that is of excellent quality. People began using that term 137 years ago in honor of one of the most talented and skillful inventors in American history, a man with more than 50 patents beginning in 1872.
Security System- Home
Marie Brown 12/2/69 Patent Date
This home protection system was the first to include television and video surveillance.
Garrett Morgan 11/20/23 Patent Date
After he saw a crash between a car and a horse-drawn carriage, Morgan decided that is was essential for him to invent some type of traffic safety device. As a result, he was the first person to apply for and receive a patent for an inexpensive “hand-cranked semaphore traffic management” mechanism that would control vehicular and pedestrian traffic, thereby protecting humans from injury and even death and protecting cars from damage. This led directly to today’s red, yellow, and green light signals. General Electric bought his patent for $40,000 and in 1963 the U.S. government awarded Morgan a citation for his invention that has saved millions of lives and body parts and has avoided billions in property damage. He also had this invention patented in Britain and Canada.
Benjamin Banneker 2/6/1753 Patent Date
Benjamin’s grandmother (who was an English indentured servant) married an indigenous African whose name was “Banna Ka.” Later, white people began calling him “Bannaky” and started spelling it “Banneker.” Benjamin’s invention was not a clock but instead was an ingenious wooden pocket watch. In addition to his status as an inventor, municipal surveyor, almanac author, mathematician, scientist, mechanical engineer, and astronomer, he also was a vocal anti-abolitionist who, on August 19, 1791, petitioned slaveholder Thomas Jefferson to end the “absurd and false ideas” of white supremacy.
Jack Johnson 4/18/22 Patent Date
This is the very same Jack Johnson who became the world’s first Black heavyweight champ by winning “The Heavyweight Championship of The World” in 1908 and who had won “The Colored Heavyweight Championship of The World” in 1903. His updated wrench was a tool designed specifically to tighten or loosen fastening devices. This wrench was important not only because of its practical use and not only because of the person who conceived it, but also because it was invented while he was in Leavenworth Prison on trumped up racist charges involving a 1912 alleged violation of the Mann Act stemming from his out-of-state trips with his white girlfriend. The Mann Act made it illegal to cross state lines to engage in “immoral activity” with white women. It should be noted that in addition to his wrench invention, Johnson also received a patent for a car theft protection device on December 12, 1922.