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Inside Black History: 10 African American Inventors to Remember

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The light of Innovation It's February 18, 2016, and Black History Month is more than halfway past. Luckily, black history is really American history, which means it can be celebrated any time during the year. Chances are, most readers are familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil-Rights-Era figures such as Rosa Parks or Malcolm X. But how much do you know about some of our most famous African American inventors? Browse the following list on your own or in the classroom and you'll soon realize how much we owe to these black innovators--some historical, some modern.

Imagine Learning blog African American inventors incandescent lightbulb The light of Innovation

It's February 18, 2016, and Black History Month is more than halfway past. Luckily, black history is really American history, which means it can be celebrated any time during the year.

Chances are, most readers are familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil-Rights-Era figures such as Rosa Parks or Malcolm X. But how much do you know about some of our most famous African American inventors?

Browse the following list on your own or in the classroom and you'll soon realize how much we owe to these black innovators--some historical, some modern.

From Lightbulb Filament to the Modern Mailbox

Lewis Latimer (1848–1928) patented a unique, carbon filament for the already-invented incandescent lightbulb, which made electric lighting much more affordable for an average homeowner.

Jan Ernst Matzeliger (1852–1889) created an automatic shoemaking machine (aka, a "lasting" machine) that attached shoe tops quickly and efficiently to their soles. This invention made shoes more affordable to those who might have gone without shoes before this time.

Dr. Charles Richard Drew (1904–1950) invented a new method for processing and then preserving blood plasma. He later served as medical director for the American Red Cross National Blood Donor Service.

Madame C. J. Walker (1867–1919) created a special hair-growing lotion, for which she became one of the first American self-made millionaires.

Philip B. Downing (dates unavail.) created a protective mail box that contained a safety door that remained closed whenever the outer door was opened. This mailbox is the precursor of those we use today.

From Surgical Tools to the Super Soaker

Many modern-day African American inventors created items with a far-reaching impact. You may recognize one name quite well!

Dr. Patricia Bath (1942– ) invented a safer, less invasive medical tool called the Laserphaco Probe for  use in cataract surgery. She also co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

Wallace 'Wally' Amos, Jr. (1936– ) perfected his chocolate chip recipe over many years, and then founded the Famous Amos cookie brand so familiar to snackers today.

Dr. Thomas Mensah (1950– ), a native of Ghana, has received 7 worldwide and national patents for fiber optic technology, including a macro-fiber composite that mimics the behavior of muscles and nerves.

James E. West (1931–) invented a sensitive, compact microphone that has since factored into laptop computers, cell phones, hearing aids, and baby monitors.

Lonnie G. Johnson (1949– ), an astrophysicist for NASA, not only worked on the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn, but he also created the famed 'Super Soaker' water gun!

 

The next time you turn on a lightbulb, talk on a smart phone, or eat a Famous Amos cookie, remember how much you owe to African American inventors who created the product you enjoy today.

Need more classroom activities for Black History Month? Use our free "Decoding the Past" printable shown below--and let us know your students' responses!Imagine Learning character, Mel, in blog post on African American Inventors

Imagine Learning Printable Black History Worksheet Click icon to view full-size worksheet.

 

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