African American Inventions Improve Our Daily Life

By Caryl Clem:

Through the last 100 years, when faced with a problem that needed a solution, African American inventors created products we still use today.  A common example, today’s ironing board with a narrow to wider proportioned curved board. A former slave woman whose main job was ironing women’s garments had moved from Craven County, North Carolina to New Haven, Connecticut after the Civil War.  The president of Yale College in New Haven was a fervent supporter of blacks acquiring the same standard of living as whites. In 1892 when Sara Boone was 60 years old, she patented the device as a cheap, efficient method to iron clothing. Previously, square planks on stands or across chairs were used for ironing.

Do you love to climb stairs or would you rather ride an elevator?  An unsung hero that invented the automatic elevator door is Alexander Miles. His own granddaughter nearly fell down an elevator shaft due to a faulty door. Since his patent in 1887, it’s the base of ones manufactured today.

If you have traveled on a main road, your safety was increased by the installation of the 3 Way Traffic Light Systems.  A successful African American inventor, Garrett Morgan, was the first black man to own a car in Cleveland, Ohio where he witnessed a terrible carriage accident. He was confident that a warning yellow yield light would decrease accidents. He patented his 3 Way Traffic Light in 1923 that was later sold to General Electric. His patents ranged from friction clutches in cars, hair straightener, breathing devices in safety hoods firefighters wear, gas masks, and sewing machine improvements. He left home after an elementary school education.

In 1940 a method to cool the roofing of a truck by Frederick McKinley Jones was the start of a new industry, refrigerated trucking.  Now supermarkets could receive from other areas perishable meat, fish, fresh eggs, bread, dairy, vegetables, fruits, medical supplies, donated blood, and flowers. During World War II his idea made possible sending supplies to our troops of food, blood and medical supplies. He had 60 patents.

Dr. James West was given the assignment to develop a sensitive, compact microphone while working at Bell Labs. He co-founded the electret transducer with Gerhard M. Sessler that is used in  90% of microphones. During his career he had 250 patents and was a professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Pioneer computer trailblazers include African American Dr. Mark Dean who was the first African American to win the Black Engineer of the Year Presidential award in 1997. He was the chief engineer at IBM heading a team of 12 members.  At career’s end, he held 3 of the 9 original IBM patents. Dr. Dean was responsible for the color IBM monitor and co- founded the Gigahertz chip that increased processing speeds at a billion calculations per second. . He developed with his colleague Dennis Moeller, The Industry Standard Architecture that allowed plug in devices such as disk drives, printers and monitors to go directly into the computer. He was inducted into the National Inventor Hall of Fame in 2001.

African American Inventors are a bulwark of our national strength and capability.