The Mount Rushmore of Black Inventors
From Soap to the Super Soaker
The Mount Rushmore series continues with a look at black inventors that changed the culture. So far, we’ve covered comedy, The Mount Rushmore of Black Comedy and dance, The Mount Rushmore of Black Dance. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about any of these genius pioneers, but am grateful to be educated and enlightened by their blackcellence. However, these lists only scratch the surface and among the hundreds of inventors, narrowing it down to 10 was challenging. Thus, there may be disagreements as there were with the previous two. A reminder that this is my opinion and all are welcome to theirs. Now, let’s give them their flowers. See how hip I’m getting?
George Washington Carver
In the fifth grade I did my semester ending history report on George Washington Carver (1864-1943). My Dad helped me grow a peanut plant in a small flower pot. My favorite teacher, Mrs. Gerace, praised me as I proudly displayed my creation while explaining to the class that I was allergic to nuts and could never experience what seemed to be the euphoria of a PB&J. At least the looks on my classmates faces said so. While being known for the man who gave the world peanut butter, Mr. Carver is responsible for so much more. Ink, Dye, Synthetic Rubber, Soap, Vinegar, Flour and Cosmetics are just a few of his inventions. Born into slavery, he became one of the most prominent scientists of the 20th Century. I should devote an entire blog to him. In conclusion, I got an A on my history report.
I can hear you disagreeing with me already. Putting the man who invented the potato chip second? Heck yes. George Crum, (1824-1914), Chef and restauranteur from Saratoga Springs, New York, has enhanced millions of our lives and belongs up there. The story goes that, in the summer of 1853, George came up with the heavenly invention quite by accident. While working as a chef at a restaurant, a customer sent back their fried potatoes claiming they were too thick. Therefore, Crum sliced them thinner, fried them and loaded them up with salt. As a result, the crisps were an instant hit. I owe my spicy BBQ homemade chips to him. Blog #50!-Is it my last? Unfortunately, he never patented his creation. Can you imagine life without chips?
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner
The Sanitary belt (the precursor to the sanitary pad) and the toilet paper holder. Enough said. Women and men pay daily homage to Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, (1912-2006). Overall, this great scientist patented 5 products including a serving tray that could be attached to a walking frame and a back washer that could be mounted on the wall of a shower. Surprisingly, this Monroe, North Carolina, native is considered to be one of the most forgotten of the black inventors. Undeniably, her contributions to society are monumental.
Indeed this inventors patents have saved many lives. Garrett Morgan (1877-1963). His traffic signal was the first to offer a third “caution” signal, now known as the yellow light. This Paris, Kentucky, native also invented the first Breathing Device, an early version of the gas mask. While working as a sewing machine repairman for a clothing manufacturer, Morgan invented the belt fastener, the zigzag attachment and a liquid that, when applied to sewing machine needles, would prevent them from burning the fabric. This led to a bevy of inventions in hair, including hair straightening cream and hair coloring products.
Dr. Patricia E. Bath
American ophthalmologist, research and laser scientist and humanitarian, Dr. Patricia Era Bath (1942-2019), was the first female member of the Jules Stein Institute. In addition, she was the first African American woman to serve as a resident of ophthalmology at NYU. She also held 5 patents. Significantly, this Harlem, New York, native was most proud of her invention and new technique and concept for cataract surgery. Known as “Laser phaco”, a device that improves on the use of lasers to remove cataracts. She worked tirelessly to provide marginalized groups around the world with needed eyecare and the prevention of blindness.
Marie Van Britten Brown
Every time your Ring doorbell goes off, you should thank Marie Van Britten Brown (1922-1999). Notably, this Jamaica Queens, New York, native patented the first ever Home Security system in 1966. Also a nurse, her original design, which included a camera, a two-way microphone, peepholes and a monitor, all of which serve as a foundation for today’s modern systems.
Frederick McKinley Jones
Inventor of the Thermo King, automatic, refrigerated air cooling units for trucks, trains, planes and ships in the 1930s, Frederick McKinley Jones (1893-1961), changed the way food is preserved around the world. Born in Covington, Kentucky, Jones also served as a Sargent in WWI. Overall receiving 61 patents, 40 for refrigeration, this mechanical engineer is an inductee in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. It is because of Jones that we can eat fresh food all year-round.
Before him, elevators were operated manually. Therefore, people had to physically open and close the doors of both the elevator and the shaft every time. Once, while riding in one with his daughter, inventor and businessman, Alexander Miles (1838-1918), realized the hazard this posed with the shaft door being open, thus, he invented the Automated Elevator Doors. Automatic opening and closing elevator doors. People often fell through the shaft doors causing horrific accidents. Miles changed all that, saving many lives, receiving the patent in 1887. Born in Pickaway County, Ohio, Miles resided in the nearby town of Chillicothe, Ohio, and made his living as a barber.
Madam CJ Walker
Obviously, you can’t do the Mount Rushmore of Black inventors without including Madam Charles Joseph Walker (1867-1919). Inventing a line of hair products geared towards black hair, she created the first Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower in 1905. Born Sarah Breedlove, this Delta, Louisiana, native is credited with becoming the first African American woman to become a self-made millionaire. Some dispute this, claiming Mary Ellen “Mammy’ Pleasant was the first. I wrote about Mammy Pleasant in my blog, Black Women Dominance-It’s here.
In his spare time while working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1990, then 41 year-old aerospace engineer, Lonnie Johnson (1949), patented his invention for kids, the Super Soaker. In 2017, Forbes magazine reported that the Mobile, Alabama native’s creation had earned over $1 billion in retail sales. Johnson attended Tuskegee University, obtaining a BS in engineering in 1973 and a Master’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1975. While still a teenager, he once tried to cook up rocket fuel in a saucepan in his mother’s kitchen, nearly burning down the house. As a result, receiving the worst whooping of his life.
“If you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.” (All Mothers everywhere) Specifically, I’m referring to the comments section. Not just mine, I mean, shouldn’t that be the rule for all comments sections? Of all the inventions, I believe it’s the worst of them. Telling someone not to read the comments is like telling an actor not to read the reviews. One can receive 99% raves, but, what is the one that affects you the most? The nasty, unpleasant comment from anonymous. Thankfully, I’m finally the sole administrator of this website so the nasty ones never see the light of day. I just wish everyone would listen to and follow their mother’s advise. Thanks for reading.
What is your favorite invention?