The First Black Person to Gain a Patent
Thomas L. Jennings was the first Black person to ever receive a patent in the United States.
Jennings was a free Black man born circa 1790 and lived and worked in New York City as a tailor.
Cheick Modibo Diarra
Diarra is a Malian-born aerospace engineer who contributed to several NASA missions such as Mars Path Finder, the Galileo spacecraft and the Mars Observer. From April 2012 to December 2012, Diarra was the prime minister of Mali until a military coup forced him to resign.
Diop was a Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist and politician. His work focused on pre-colonial African history. Throughout his career, Diop studied racial phenotypes and wrote many books about his findings. There is also an university in Senegal named after him.
Source: pianonator – Dr. James E. West, formerly of Bell Laboratories, now research professor at Johns Hopkins University, interviewed on June 10, 2009, for the occasion of the Juneteenth celebration by the Student Technology Services, celebrating contributions to science and technology by African-American innovators. West, together with Gerhard Sesslar, invented the Electret Microphone, which is used in roughly 95 percent of microphone applications today.
Engineer and inventor Lonnie G. Johnson was born in Alabama October 6th, 1949. After graduating from Tuskegee University with a master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering, Johnson joined the U.S. Air Force. He was assigned to the Strategic Air Command, where he helped develop the stealth bomber program. His other assignments included working as a systems engineer for the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn. On Oct. 16, 1984, Johnson received a patent for thermal energy accumulation – pressurized fluid-powered thermodynamic heat pump.
Although he is best known for inventing the Super Soaker squirt gun, Johnson has continued his work in the energy sector. He owns and operates Johnson ElectroMechanical Systems (JEMS) with a focus on developing alternative energy generation technologies to meet tomorrow’s energy needs. And Excellatron Solid State, LLC, a U.S. based technology company, introducing innovative and enabling energy storage technology. Johnson currently holds over 80 patents.
David Nelson Crosthwait Jr. was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on May 27, 1898. His interest in mechanics led him to Purdue University, where he studied mechanical engineering. After graduation, he took a job with the C.A. Dunham Co. conducting innovative research. There, he designed the heat system for New York City’s Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. On Oct. 16, 1934, he patented his invention. Crosthwait held 119 patents — 39 in the U.S. and 80 internationally — all in relation to heating, cooling and temperature-regulating technology.
Black innovators, scientists and inventors have made significant contributions in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Each has added something special and unique to the STEM world and, for that reason, is worthy of recognition.
Here are seven scientist Blerds you should know about.
Name: Dr. Shaundra B. Daily
Expertise: Educational Technologist
Contribution to Science: The MIT graduate was part of the team of researchers who developed Galvanic Skin Response bracelets, also referred to as GSR. The bracelets allow researchers to measure variations in emotional reactions. Humans tend to sweat when experiencing certain emotions and the GSR bracelets measure how much the wearer perspires.
Daily has always had an interest in understanding how people emote because she says for a long time she didn’t get emotions. On a segment of the Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers, Daily shares that when she was a little girl her mother threw her a surprise party and she didn’t emote. Her reaction was a simple, “Thank you.” “My mother described my temperament as flatline,” Daily says. This interest influenced Daily to understand how emotions can positively or negatively affect how a child learns.
Daily created Girls Involved In Real Life Sharing (G.I.R.L.S.), creative and engaging software that helps measure emotion for young girls. The aim is to help them explore their emotions and then learn how to deal with them accordingly.
Not only is Daily a renowned educational technologist, but she is a dancer who has performed for Florida State University and BET.
Name: Dr. Agnes Day
Contribution to Science: The Howard University professor’s love of science began when she was a young girl exploring the wooded landscape of her hometown with her older brother.
After discovering plant life, insects and animals, they would head to the library to learn more about their findings. This love of natural science followed her throughout her life.
According to the Grio, while pursuing a graduate degree, Day secured a grant that amounted to $2.5 million. The grant was intended “to fund research that focused on mechanisms of drug resistance in fungi, the development of animal models of breast cancer, and molecular characterization of the aggressive phenotype of breast cancer in African-American women.”
Jan Ernst Matzeliger was born on Sept. 15, 1852, in Paramaribo, Suriname. His father was Dutch and his mother was a former enslaved woman from Suriname. Matzeliger began working in machine shops at 10. He died Aug. 24, 1889.
Matzeliger took night classes and studied English. He collected a personal library of scientific books he used to educate himself. Matzeliger was also a talented artist. He painted pictures, which he gave to his friends, and he taught classes in oil painting.
In 1880, Matzeliger was determined to improve shoe production. In the early part of the 19th century, shoe production was slow and only in the hands of cobblers. His process involved mechanical shaping of the shoe’s upper leather over a form shaped like a human foot, and attaching the shoe upper to the sole.
Around the 1880s, Matzeliger began putting together a crude prototype. He used whatever scraps he could find such as cigar boxes, pieces of wood, wire, nails and paper. He was ridiculed and underestimated by competitors.
On March 20, 1883, Matzeliger received patent number 274,207 for his machine. The mechanism worked by pulling the leather down around the heel, then setting and driving in the nails, and then the machine would discharge the completed shoe. It had the capacity to produce 700 pairs of shoes a day. That’s more than 10 times the amount produced by a cobbler.
In 1991, the United States government issued a “Black Heritage” postage stamp in Matzeliger’s honor.
Lewis Latimer (1848 – 1928)
What He Invented: The Carbon Filament For The Light Bulb.
Why It’s Important: Latimer is one of the greatest inventors of all time. Thomas Edison may have invented the electric lightbulb, but Latimer helped make it a common feature in American households. In 1881 he received a patent for inventing a method of producing carbon filaments, which made the bulbs longer-lasting, more efficient and cheaper.
In 1876, he worked with Alexander Graham Bell to draft the drawings required for the patent of Bell’s telephone.
Elijah McCoy (1844-1929)
What He Invented: A Railroad Lubrication Machine.
Why It’s Important: McCoy, who was from Canada, invented a lubrication device to make railroad operation more efficient. After studying the inefficiencies inherent in the existing system of oiling axles, McCoy invented a lubricating cup that distributed oil evenly over the engine’s moving parts. He obtained a patent for this invention in 1872, which allowed trains to run continuously for long periods of time without pausing for maintenance.
What He Invented: The Modern-Day Fireproof Safe
Why It Is Important: When Henry Brown patented a “receptacle for storing and preserving papers on November 2, 1886” This was a fire and accident safe container made of forged metal, which could be sealed with a lock and key. Anyone who has ever had important documents stored in a safe and saved in a fire can thank Brown.
Granville T. Woods (1856-1910)
What He Invented: The Multiplex Telegraph.
Why It’s Important: The Multiplex Telegraph was a device that sent messages between train stations and moving trains. His work assured a safer and better public transportation system for the cities of the United States.
There is very little known about the inventor Alexander Ashbourne (c. 1820-1915). Aspects of his early life are unknown and undocumented. Ashbourne was born into slavery circa 1820 in Philadelphia, and lived to be 95 years old. He moved to Oakland, California, in the 1880s to run his own grocery store. However, his greatest invention still lives on today.
Ashbourne is best known for his patents that made coconut oil accessible for domestic use.
Today in history, Ashbourne received a patent for treating coconut on Aug. 21, 1877. He received patent number 194,287 for his process. The process for refining the oil includes: filtration, bleaching, heated to a very high temperature, and it is hydrogenated to ensure that no unsaturated fatty acids are left in the oil. The process was difficult at the time because there was a lack of technological advancement. Ashbourne was revolutionary. His process is still used today and has been built upon by food companies worldwide.
He also gained a patent for a process for preparing coconut oil on July 27, 1880. He started working on this refining process in 1875, and continued until 1880.
Thanks to his work, coconut oil is used in hair products, foods and scented products.
In addition to coconut refining, Ashbourne patented his biscuit cutter invention on May 11, 1875. Before the biscuit cutter, cooks had to shape biscuits by hand.
The spring-loaded cutter had a board to load biscuits and unload them easily. There was a metal plate with various shapes. The cook could push down on the plate to cut the dough into shapes.