In celebration of Black History Month, it’s important to acknowledge and remember the innovative contributions made by African Americans. Here are a number of Black inventors whose ingenuity created something that still, even hundreds of years later, we use in our everyday lives.
Garrett A. Morgan: Three-Position Traffic Light
Imagine if there were only the red and green on a traffic light causing the switch between stop and go to be abrupt and without warning? It would certainly cause an increase in traffic accidents, as it did back in the 1920s. It was after witnessing such an accident that prompted Garrett A. Morgan to invent a solution, and in 1922 he came up with the three position traffic light. Morgan also invented the smokehood and protector, a precursor to the gas mask. From Cleveland, Ohio, he was also the first African American to own an automobile in his city.
George Crum: The Potato Chip
George Crum started as a cook at different Adirondack resorts where he discovered his culinary skills, later becoming a New York restaurant owner himself. The story of what lead to his potato chip invention however, started with an angry customer unhappy with the thickness of Crum’s fries. Despite Crum’s numerous attempts at thinning the french fries, the customer was still dissatisfied. Crum, most likely in a sarcastic manner shaved the potato until is was paper thin, dropped it in oil, salted and served it to the picky customer. Much to his surprise, instead of being angry, the customer loved it. Thus, the potato chip was born.
Lewis Latimer: Carbon filament in a light bulb and the application of public electric lights
Before Lewis Latimer’s carbon filament invention, light bulbs had an extremely short life span of only a few days. He additionally invented the threaded socket for the light bulb and oversaw the installation of lighting in railroad stations, government building and major thoroughfares in Canada, New England and London. He was a draftsman for Alexander Graham Bell before being hired as an assistant and draftsman for Thomas Edison.
Sarah Boone: Ironing Board
Before Sarah Boone’s ironing board invention, ironing was done on a table, or plank of wood. In 1982, Boone created a specifically shaped board for fitted clothes, covered in padded cloth with folding legs.
Philip B. Downing: Mailbox
In 1891, Philip B. Downing created the hinged door box to shelter mail from the elements. A design that we still use to this day to receive mail.
Lloyd Ray: Dustpan
In 1897, Lloyd Ray created a device with a long handle attached to a steel collection box called the dustpan. The dustpan greatly improved the gathering and transportation of dirt, dust and anything else you sweep up.
To learn more about historic Black inventors, there are a number of helpful resources such as Blackinventor.com and Black-inventor.com to get you started.