Most people have heard about famous inventions such as the cotton gin or the light bulb. But there are numerous inventions that are often overlooked or forgotten.
Improved Ironing Board, Sarah Boone in 1892
The ironing board is a product that is frequently used but often overlooked. It was invented by Boone, an African American woman that was born enslaved. She expanded upon the original invention that was just a wooden block. With her 1892 additions, the board featured a more curved and narrow design, making it easier to iron clothes, specifically women’s clothing. The design would eventually develop into the modern iron board that millions of people use today.
Traffic Light, Garrett Morgan in 1923
Although Morgan came up with several inventions including the improved gas mask and the sewing machine, his most known invention is the traffic light. With only an elementary education, he came up with the idea when he witnessed a car accident at an intersection in the city. Morgan was inspired to add a “yield” light to warn other drivers of an upcoming stop. He took out a patent for his creation and it was granted in 1923.
Automatic Elevator Doors, Alexander Miles in 1867
When Miles’ daughter was almost killed falling down a shaft, he took it upon himself to make a new invention. Prior to his 1867 patent, riders had to manually open and close doors when riding on elevator cars. Miles created a mechanism that forced the doors to close automatically, preventing dangerous accidents.
Marie Van Brittan Brown, Home Security System in 1966
Did you know that the first home security system was invited by a Black nurse? When she recognized the security threats around her home she invented a system that would alert her of strangers at the door. The original invention consisted of monitors, a camera, and a two-way microphone. Brown finished it off with an alarm button that would contact the police immediately when pressed.
Madam C.J. Walker, Hair-Straightening Formula in 1905
Walker was the first African American woman to become a millionaire after developing her own hair products. In the 1890s, she began to suffer from hair loss because of the chemicals she was exposed to working as a laundress. Eventually, she came up with her own formulas to heal scalps and spur hair growth. She also invented the hot comb that was used to straighten the hair of Black women.
George Washington Carver, Peanut Butter/ Experiments in 1914
Carver is most known for his idea of crop rotation. He was also the first Black man to earn a bachelor’s degree. As an agricultural chemist, he wanted to increase the profit of peanuts and sweet potatoes. He began conducting experiments in 1896 and developed over 518 new products for the crops. The crops included flour, vinegar, soap, dye and cosmetics. Carver adopted the name “The Peanut Man” because of his contributions involving the peanut industry.
Charles Richard Drew, Blood Plasma in the late 1930s
Dr. Charles Richard Drew broke barriers in a racially separated America and became one of the most vital researchers of the 20th century. His research and preservation of blood plasma during World War II not only spared thousands of lives but improved the nation’s blood banking process. He established methods that the American Red Cross still used today. Drew became known as “The Father of Blood Bank” by the American Chemical Society.
Electret Microphone, James E. West in 1964
While working at Bells Lab in 1960, Dr. James E. West was assigned with creating a more sensitive and compact microphone. He invented the foil electret microphone alongside his German colleague, Gerhard Sessler. It was less expensive to make and produce than the typical condenser microphone. West patented the creation in 1964, and four years later it was sold into production.
Cataract Surgery, Patricia Bath in 1986
In 1986, Dr. Bath invented a laser cataract surgical device called a Laserphaco Probe. She also became the first African American medical doctor to receive a medical patent and finish a residency in ophthalmology. One of the co-founders of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness patented her creation in 1988.
Sanitary Belt, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner in 1957
Kenner is known as one of the forgotten inventors despite her inventing the sanitary belt. The belt was an adjustable belt that had a moisture-proof napkin pocket for women during their periods during a time in which they used cloth pads. She filed a patent five times and it was finally approved in 1957.
These creators and inventors illustrate the wide-ranging intelligence of historical African Americans, who preserved despite the many racial challenges along the way.