Black History Month – Little known facts about Black inventions that will surprise you

Information taken Black Inventor

 

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Marjorie Stewart Joyner was born in Monterey, Virginia on October 24, 1896, the granddaughter of a slave and a slave-owner. In 1912, an eager Marjorie moved to Chicago, Illinois to pursue a career in cosmetology. She enrolled in the A.B. Molar Beauty School and in 1916 became the first Black women to graduate from the school. Following graduation, the 20 year old married podiatrist Robert E. Joyner and opened a beauty salon.

 She was introduced to Madame C.J. Walker, a well-known Black businesswoman, specializing in beauty products and services. Walker supplied beauty products to a number of the most prominent Black figures of the time, including singer Josephine Baker. With her fame, Ms. Walker was able to open over 200 beauty salon shops across the United States. After Madame Walker’s death in 1919, Marjorie was hired to oversee the Madame C.J. Walker Beauty Colleges as national supervisor.

A dilemma existed for Black women in the 1920′s. In order to straighten tightly-curled hair, they could so so only by using a stove-heated curling iron. This was very time-consuming and frustrating as only one iron could be used at a time. In 1926, Joyner set out to make this process faster, easier and more efficient. She imagined that if a number of curling irons could be arranged above a women’s head, they could work at the same time to straighten her hair all at once. According to the Smithsonian Institute, Joyner remembered that “It all came to me in the kitchen when I was making a pot roast one day, looking at these long, thin rods that held the pot roast together and heated it up from the inside. I figured you could use them like hair rollers, then heat them up to cook a permanent curl into the hair.” Thus, she sought a solution to not only straighten but also provide a curl in a convenient manner.

Joyner developed her concept by connecting 16 rods to a single electric cord inside of a standard drying hood. A women would thus wear the hood for the prescribed period of time and her hair would be straightened or curled. After two years Joyner completed her invention and patented it in 1928, calling it the “Permanent Waving Machine.” She thus became the first Black woman to receive a patent and her device enjoyed enormous and immediate success. It performed even better than anticipated as the curl that it added would often stay in place for several days, whereas curls from standard curling iron would generally last only one day.

In addition to the success found in Madame Walker’s salons, the device was a hit in white salons as well, allowing white patrons to enjoy the beauty of their “permanent curl” or “perm” for days. Although popular, the process could be painful as well, so Marjorie patented a scalp protector that could be used to make the experience more pleasant. This too proved to be a major success. Despite her accomplishments and success, Marjorie received none of the proceeds of her inventions as the patents were created within the scope of her employment with Madame Walker’s company, which therefore received all patent rights and royalties. Undeterred,in 1945 Joyner co-founded the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association along with Mary Bethune McLeod. She tirelessly helped to raise money for Black colleges and founded the Alpha Chi Pi Omega Sorority and Fraternity in an effort to raise professional standards for beauticians. In 1973, at the age of 77, she was awarded a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Marjorie Joyner died on December 7, 1994 at the age of 98. She left behind her a legacy of creativity, ingenuity and selflessness that served to inspire many generations.

 

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Andre Reboucas was born in 1838 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was trained at the Military School of Rio de Janeiro and became an engineer after studying in Europe. After returning to Brazil, Reboucas was named a lieutenant in the engineering corps in the 1864 Paraguayan War. During the war, as naval vessels became more and more integral, Reboucas designed an immersible device which could be projected underwater, causing an explosion with any ship it hit. The device became known as the torpedo.

 After his military career, Reboucas began teaching at the Polytechnical School in Rio de Janeiro and became very wealthy. He used his wealth to aid in the Brazilian abolition movement, trying to end slavery in Brazil. After growing disgusted with conditions in Brazil, Reboucas moved to Funchal, Madeira, off of the coast of Africa where he died in 1898.

 

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In 1935, Benjamin Thornton created a device that could be attached to a telephone and could be set to record a voice message from a caller. By utilizing a clock attachment, the machine could also forward the messages as well as keep track of the time they were made.

This device was the predecessor of today’s answering machine.

 

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John Love – Many patents are developed in response to the frustration involved in having to perform a repetitive task in order to complete a more important one. For John L. Love, this repetitive task was having to stop writing notes or letters in able to pull out his knife to whittle his pencil down to a point again.

On November 23, 1897, Love patented the pencil sharpener which called for a user to turn a crank and rotor off thin slices of wood from the pencil until a point was formed

Four years earlier, Love created and patented his Plasterer’s Hawk. This device, a flat square piece of board made of wood or metal, upon which plaster or mortar was placed and then spread by plasterers or masons. This device was patented on July 9, 1895.

 

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Richards Spikes – Inventors often toil for their entire lifetimes creating devices which have beneficial effects on society for years – yet that inventor might gain recognition only after he or she has passed away. For others, even after they have gone, recognition is slow in coming despite their great contributions. Richard Spikes is such a person.

Little has been written about Richard Spikes in terms of his childhood, education and personal life. What is known is that he was an incredible inventor and the proof of this is in the incredibly diverse number of creations that have had a major impact on the lives of everyday citizens.

Over the course of his lifetime, Spikes developed the following inventions or innovations:

  • railroad semaphore (1906)
  • automatic car washer (1913)
  • automobile directional signals (1913)
  • beer keg tap (1910)
  • self-locking rack for billiard cues (1910)
  • continuous contact trolley pole (1919)
  • combination milk bottle opener and cover (1926)
  • method and apparatus for obtaining average samples and temperature of tank liquids (1931)
  • automatic gear shift (1932)
  • transmission and shifting thereof (1933)
  • automatic shoe shine chair (1939)
  • multiple barrel machine gun (1940)
  • horizontally swinging barber chair (1950)
  • automatic safety brake (1962)

Spikes inventions were welcome to major companies. His beer keg tap was purchased by Milwaukee Brewing Company and the automobile directional signals which were first introduced in the Pierce Arrow, soon became standard in all automobiles. For his innovative designs of transmission and gear-shifting devices, Spikes received over $100,000.00 – an enormous sum for a Black man in the 1930s.

By the time he was creating the automatic safety brake in 1962, Spikes was losing his vision. In order to complete the device, he first created a drafting machine for blind designers – by the time his braking device was completed, he was deemed legally blind. The device would soon be found in almost every school bus in the nation.

Richard Spikes died in 1962 but left behind a lifetime of achievement that few could parallel.

 

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Robert Pelham was born in January of 1859 in Petersburg, Virginia. His parents, Robert and Frances Pelham, moved the family to Detroit, Michigan in hopes of finding a more favorable atmosphere for their children to receive an education and opportunities for decent employment. While enrolled in public schools, Pelham was hired by a newspaper called the Daily Post, working under Zachariah Chandler, who trained him in the skills of journalism. He remained with the paper for 20 years while at the same time managing a Black weekly newspaper called the Detroit Plaindealer.

 Pelham would later hold a number of important jobs, including Deputy Oil Inspector for the state of Michigan, Special Agent for the United States Land Office and Inspector for the Detroit Water Department. In 1893 Robert married Gabrielle Lewis and the couple moved to Washington, D.C. in 1900 where he took a job as a clerk for the United States Census Department. Studying at night, Pelham received a law degree from Howard University in 1904 and soon began work on a project to help him with his job at the Census Department.

At the Census Department, a clerk had to manually paste statistical slips onto sheets and organized appropriately. The process was messy and required many employees to carry it out. Pelham devised a method for automating the pasting process and set out to create a device that could accomplish it. Starting with a rolling pin, cigar boxes, wooden screws and other miscellaneous items, Pelham developed a working model which he put into effect. The apparatus would go on to save the Department more than $3,000.00 He continued working for the Census Bureau for 30 years, and during that time patented two items – the tabulation device in 1905 and a tallying machine in 1913.

After retiring from the Census Bureau, he began editing a Black newspaper called the Washington Tribune, and later created the Capital News Services, a news agency devoted to Black issues of the day. In June of 1943 Robert Pelham died leaving behind him a list of accomplishments.

 

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As a child, Valerie Thomas became fascinated with the mysteries of technology, tinkering with electronics with her father and reading books on electronics written for adolescent boys. The likelihood of her enjoying a career in science seemed bleak, as her all-girls high school did not push her to take advanced science or math classes or encourage her in that direction. Nonetheless, her curiosity was piqued and upon her graduation from high school, she set out on the path to become a scientist.

 Thomas enrolled at Morgan State University and performed exceedingly well as a student, graduating with a degree in physics (one of only two women in her class to do so). She accepted a position with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), serving as a data analyst. After establishing herself within the agency, she was asked to manage the “Landsat” project, an image processing system that would allow a satellite to transmit images from space.In 1976 Thomas attended a scientific seminar where she viewed an exhibit demonstrating an illusion. The exhibit used concave mirrors to fool the viewer into believing that a light bulb was glowing even after it had been unscrewed from its socket. Thomas was fascinated by what she saw, and imagined the commercial opportunities for creating illusions in this manner.

In 1977 she began experimenting with flat mirrors and concave mirrors. Flat mirrors, of course, provide a reflection of an object which appear to lie behind the glass surface. A concave mirror, on the other hand, presents a reflection that appears to exist in front of the glass, thereby providing the illusion that they exist in a three-dimensional manner. Thomas believed that images, presented in this way could provide a more accurate, if not more interesting, manner of representing video data. She not only viewed the process as a potential breakthrough for commercial television, but also as scientific tool for NASA and its image delivery system.

Thomas applied for a patent for her process on December 28, 1978 and the patent was issued on October 21, 1980. The invention was similar to the technique of holographic production of image recording which uses coherent radiation and employs front wave reconstruction techniques which render the process unfeasible due to the enormous expense and complicated setup. Parabolic mirrors, however, can render these optical illusions with the use use of a concave mirror near the subject image and a second concave mirror at a remote site. In the description of her patent, the process is explained. “Optical illusions may be produced by parabolic mirrors wherein such images produced thereby are possessed with three dimensional attributes. The optical effect may be explained by the fact that the human eyes see an object from two view points separated laterally by about six centimeters. The two views show slightly different spatial relationships between near and near distant objects and the visual process fuses these stereoscopic views to a single three dimensional impression. The same parallax view of an object may be experienced upon reflection of an object seen from a concave mirror.” (http://www.freepatentsonline.com/4229761.html). The Illusion Transmitter would thus enable the users to render three-dimensional illusions in real-time.

 Valerie Thomas continued working for NASA until 1995 when she retired. In addition to her work with the Illusion Transmitter she designed programs to research Halley’s comet and ozone holes. She received numerous awards for her service, including the GSFC Award of Merit and the NASA Equal Opportunity Medal. In her career, she showed that the magic of fascination can often lead to concrete scientific applications for real-world problem-solving.

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Black History Month – 11 African American Inventors Who Changed the World

Article by Kristin Fawcett of “Mental Floss”


1. THOMAS L. JENNINGS

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Thomas L. Jennings (1791-1859) was the first African American person to receive a patent in the U.S., paving the way for future inventors of color to gain exclusive rights to their inventions. Born in 1791, Jennings lived and worked in New York City as a tailor and dry cleaner. He invented an early method of dry cleaning called “dry scouring,” and patented it in 1821—four years before Paris tailor Jean Baptiste Jolly refined his own chemical technique and established what many people claim was history’s first dry cleaning business.

People objected to an African American citizen receiving a patent, but Jennings had a loophole: He was a free man. At the time, U.S. patent laws said that the “[slavemaster] is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual”—meaning slaves couldn’t legally own their ideas or inventions, but nothing was stopping Jennings. Several decades later, Congress extended patent rights to all African American individuals, both slaves and freedmen.

Jennings used the money from his invention to free the rest of his family and donate to abolitionist causes.

2. MARK E. DEAN

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If you ever owned the original IBM personal computer, you can partially credit its existence to Mark E. Dean (1957). The computer scientist/engineer worked for IBM, where he led the team that designed the ISA bus—the hardware interface that allows multiple devices like printers, modems, and keyboards to be plugged into a computer. This innovation helped pave the way for the personal computer’s use in office and business settings.

Dean also helped develop the first color computer monitor, and in 1999 he led the team of programmers that created the world’s first gigahertz chip. Today, the computer scientist holds three of the company’s original nine patents, and more than 20 overall.

Dean was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1997. He’s currently a computer science professor at the University of Tennessee.

3. MADAM C.J. WALKER

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Madam C. J. Walker is often referred to as America’s first self-made female millionaire—a far cry from her roots as the daughter of Louisiana sharecroppers. The entrepreneur was born Sarah Breedlove in 1867, and her early life was filled with hardships: By the age of 20, she was both an orphan and a widow.

Breedlove’s fortunes changed after she moved to St. Louis, where her brothers worked as barbers. She suffered from hair loss, and experimented with various products, including hair care recipes developed by an African American businesswoman named Annie Malone.

Breedlove became a sales representative for Malone and relocated to Denver, where she also married her husband, Charles Joseph Walker, a St. Louis newspaperman. Soon after, she began selling her own hair-growing formula developed specifically for African American women.

Breedlove renamed herself “Madam C.J. Walker,” heavily promoted her products, and established beauty schools, salons, training facilities across America. She died a famous millionaire, and is today considered to be one of the founders of the African American hair-care and cosmetics industry.

4. DR. SHIRLEY JACKSON

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Dr. Shirley Jackson is a theoretical physicist who currently serves as president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. While working at the former AT&T Bell Laboratories, she helped develop technologies that led to the invention of the portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology enabling caller ID and call waiting. Jackson was also the first black woman to graduate with a Ph.D. from M.I.T., and the first to be named chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

5. GEORGE CARRUTHERS

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George Carruthers (born in 1939) is an astrophysicist who spent much of his career working with the Space Science Division of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C. He’s most famous for creating the ultraviolet camera/spectograph, which NASA used when it launched Apollo 16 in 1972. It helped prove that molecular hydrogen existed in interstellar space, and in 1974 space scientists used a new model version of the camera to observe Halley’s Comet and other celestial phenomena on the U.S.’s first space station, Skylab.

Carruthers was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2003.

6. MARIE VAN BRITTAN BROWN

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Homeowners can rest a little easier thanks to Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922-1999), a nurse and inventor who invented a precursor to the modern home TV security system. The crime rate was high in Brown’s New York City neighborhood, and the local police didn’t always respond to emergencies. To feel safer, Brown and her husband developed a way for a motorized camera to peer through a set of peepholes and project images onto a TV monitor. The device also included a two-way microphone to speak with a person outside, and an emergency alarm button to notify the police.

The Browns filed a patent for their closed circuit television security system in 1966, and it was approved on December 2, 1969.

7. CHARLES RICHARD DREW

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Countless individuals owe their lives to Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950), the physician responsible for America’s first major blood banks. Drew attended McGill University College of Medicine in Montreal, where he specialized in surgery. During a post-graduate internship and residency, the young doctor studied transfusion medicine—and later, while studying at Columbia University on fellowship, he refined key methods of collecting, processing, and storing plasma.

In 1940, World War II was in full swing, and Drew was put in charge of a project called “Blood for Britain.” He helped collect thousands of pints of plasma from New York hospitals, and shipped them overseas to treat European soldiers. Drew is also responsible for introducing the use of “bloodmobiles”—refrigerated trucks that transport blood.

The following year, Drew developed another blood bank for military personnel, under the American Red Cross—an effort that grew into the American Red Cross Blood Donor Service. Eventually, he resigned in protest after he learned that the military separated blood donations according to race.

Drew spent the remainder of his life working as a surgeon and a professor, and in 1943, he became the first African American doctor to be chosen as a member of the American Board of Surgery.

8. DR. PATRICIA BATH

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Dr. Patricia Bath (1942—) revolutionized the field of ophthalmology when she invented a device that refined laser cataract surgery, called the Laserphaco Probe. She patented the invention in 1988, and today she’s remembered as the first African American woman doctor to receive a medical patent.

Bath is a trailblazer in other areas, too: She was the first African American to finish a residency in ophthalmology; the first woman to chair a ophthalmology residency program in the U.S.; and she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. If that weren’t enough, Bath’s research on health disparities between African American patients and other patients gave birth to a new discipline, “community ophthalmology,” in which volunteer eye workers offer primary care and treatment to underserved populations.

9. JAN ERNST MATZELIGER

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The average 19th century person couldn’t afford shoes. This changed thanks to Jan Ernst Matzeliger, an immigrant from Dutch Guiana (today called Surinam) who worked as an apprentice in a Massachusetts shoe factory. Matzeliger invented an automated shoemaking machine that attached a shoe’s upper part to its sole. Once it was refined, the device could make 700 pairs of shoes each day—a far cry from the 50 per day that the average worker once sewed by hand. Matzeliger’s creation led to lower shoe prices, making them finally within financial reach for the average person.

10. ALEXANDER MILES

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Not too much is known about Alexander Miles’s life (1830s–1918), but we do know that the inventor was living in Duluth, Minnesota, when he designed an important safety feature for elevators: their automatic doors. During the 19th century, passengers had to manually open—and close—doors to both the elevator and its shaft. If a rider forgot to close the shaft door, other people risked accidentally falling down the long, vertical hole. Miles’s design—which he patented in 1867—allowed both of these doors to close at once, preventing unfortunate accidents in the making. Today’s elevators still employ a similar technology.

11. GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER

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George Washington Carver (1860s-1943) was born into slavery in Missouri. The Civil War ended when he was a boy, allowing the young man the chance to receive an education. Higher education opportunities for African Americans were limited at the time, but Carver eventually received his undergraduate and master’s degrees in botany at Iowa State Agricultural College.

After graduation, Carver was hired by Booker T. Washington to run the Tuskegee Institute’s agricultural department, in southeastern Alabama. He helped poor agrarians by teaching them about fertilization and crop rotation—and since the region’s primary crop was cotton, which drains nutrients from the soil, the scientist conducted studies to determine which crops naturally thrived in the region. Legumes and sweet potatoes enriched the fields, but there wasn’t much of a demand for either. So Carver used the humble peanut to create more than 300 products, ranging from laundry soaps to plastics and diesel fuel. By 1940 it was the South’s second-largest cash crop.


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