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Amistad © 2009 Start African-American Inventors
Amistad © 2009 End Overview Although rarely credited for their contributions, African Americans have been responsible for some of the most important scientific and social innovations in American history. Scientists such as George Washington Carver and entrepreneurs such as Madame C.J. Walker have enhanced the lives of all Americans with their innovations.
Amistad © 2009 End African-American Inventors This presentation documents the lives of some of the most influential African- American inventors in the fields of industrial machinery, cosmetics, plant science, and medicine.
Amistad © 2009 End Elijah McCoy 1843 – 1929 Elijah McCoy is a good example of an African- American inventor who focused on solving problems. He invented a device that allowed machines to remain lubricated while still in motion. His automatic oiling devices were so effective no heavy-duty machinery was considered adequate without this device. In spite of imitators who tried to capitalize on McCoys work, machinery buyers always insisted on the McCoy lubrication systems when buying their new machine. They would not take anything less than what came to be known as the real McCoy. The expression remains a part of American pop culture.
Amistad © 2009 End Sarah Goode One of the first African-American women to apply for a patent was also concerned about practical issues. In 1885, Sarah Goode filed for a patent for her invention, the cabinet bed. Goode, who owned a furniture store in Chicago, had often heard complaints from customers about the limited space in their homes. She designed a bed that was both useful and attractive. Goodes innovation was that her bed took up less space than a traditional bed and also provided additional storage. During the day the bed could be folded up, and the cabinet used as either a table or a desk.
Amistad © 2009 End Lewis Latimer Although Thomas Edison most often is credited with the invention of the incandescent light bulb, his invention never would have been possible without the help of Lewis Latimer. A respected scientist in his own right, Latimer developed the filament that increased the longevity of the bulb. During his career he worked with a number of well-known inventors. In addition to Edison, Latimer also collaborated with Hiram Maxim and Alexander Graham Bell. He was also the sole African-American member of the famed group of inventors known as Edison Pioneers.
Amistad © 2009 End Jan Ernst Matzeliger Another example of an invention by a person of African descent was the shoe- making machine. Jan Ernst Matzeliger invented it. Born in Dutch Guyana, Matzeliger barely spoke English when he came in the United States in He began experimenting on a shoe-making machine in Massachusetts. He perfected his design in 1882 and applied for a patent. His machine made it possible for manufacturers to produce anywhere from one hundred fifty to seven hundred pairs of shoes a day. Earlier machines could only produce fifty to seventy-five pairs in the same time. Matzeliger eventually became the majority stock holder in the Consolidated Lasting Machine Company that produced his machine.
Amistad © 2009 End Granville T. Woods Granville T. Woods often was called the black Thomas Edison. Other black inventors such as Lewis Latimer inspired Woods. While attending college in the early 1870s, he became an engineer for a Missouri railroad. In 1882, he took a job driving a steam locomotive for D&S Railroads. Because of racism, he was passed over for a promotion and eventually took a job with the telegraph company. Combining his knowledge of the railroads and the telegraph, he developed more than a dozen inventions for use in rail communications. These inventions included a system that allowed the companies to track the location of trains.
Amistad © 2009 End George Washington Carver Widely regarded as one of the greatest inventors of the 20th century, George Washington Carver created over four hundred different plant products. He first came to fame through his promotion of other crops as alternatives to cotton. He wanted poor farmers to grow other crops to feed their families and also to provide an additional source of income. He advocated growing peanuts because they are highly adaptable. He eventually came up with a substantial number of uses for the peanut.
Amistad © 2009 End Madame C.J. Walker Daily problems often spur innovations. When she was young, famed entrepreneur Madame C.J. Walker was only able to wash her hair once a month. As a result, she developed severe dandruff as well as a scalp disease, and at a young age she began losing her hair. Later, while working for a woman who owned a line of hair care products, Walker was inspired to formulate her own beauty products specifically for women of color. Her products were an instant success. She founded the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company in 1906 and was the first female, black or white, to become a self-made millionaire.
Amistad © 2009 End Garrett A. Morgan Our lives would probably be much more dangerous without the inventions of Garrett A. Morgan who invented the gas mask and the traffic signal. In 1912 Morgan patented the Safety Hood and Smoke Protector, which eventually would come to be known as the gas mask. He gained national attention when he used his mask to rescue several men from an explosion in an underground tunnel beneath Lake Erie. He received requests for his mask from fire departments all over the United States and England. The design for the mask was revised and widely used throughout World War I. During the start of the automobile era, bicycles and animal-powered carts were still widely used. After witnessing the collision of a horse-drawn carriage and a car, he began developing the three- position traffic signal. He was granted a patent in November 1923 in the United States. He was also awarded patents in Great Britain and Canada.
Amistad © 2009 End Dr. Patricia E. Bath Often less visible are the contributions of African-American female inventors. Ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia E. Bath is credited as the first African-American woman to receive a patent for a medical invention. She developed her invention, an apparatus for ablating and removing cataract lenses, to remove cataracts with a fiber-optic laser. The device was patented in The procedure helped to revolutionize the treatment of cataracts.
Amistad © 2009 End Vivien Thomas Vivien Thomas was an African-American surgical technician who helped to develop several important medical procedures related to the heart and lungs including blue baby syndrome. After losing all of his money at the onset of the Great Depression, Thomas was forced to drop out of college. He became a skilled surgeon by working with and observing famed surgeon, Alfred Blalock. Working with Blalock, Thomas learned to perform complicated surgical procedures; and although he had not attended medical school, he became one of the foremost health professionals of his time. Thomas even served on the faculty of the medical school at Johns Hopkins University.
Amistad © 2009 End Otis Boykin After earning degrees from Fisk University and the Illinois Institute of Technology, Otis Boykin took a position in a laboratory that tested the automatic controls for airplanes. Over the course of his career, he invented more than two dozen electronic devices that found their way into everything from guided missiles to IBM computers. His most famous invention, however, was the pacemaker. This device uses electrical impulses to regulate the heartbeat of a person suffering from an irregular heartbeat.
Amistad © 2009 End Lonnie G. Johnson Sometimes inventors focus on creating items for our leisure. One such inventor is Lonnie G. Johnson. He developed the popular Super Soaker water guns. Johnson, who once served as the acting chief of the Space Nuclear Power Safety Section of the United States Air Force and was a technician with NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, applied his knowledge of science to the old-fashioned water gun. After various experiments, he came up with the Super Soaker water pistol. By using air-pressure, a stream of water can be shot up to fifty feet. Released commercially in 1989, Super Soaker went on to become a multi-billion dollar company.
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