Black History Month

Spotlighting Black Innovators And Their Inventions

You may hear a lot about the inventor of the light bulb, Thomas Edison, or maybe even the concept creator of the iPhone, Steve Jobs. But there are many other inventions that we use in everyday life. Among these inventions are many that were created by Black inventors. Traffic lights, refrigerated trucks, automatic elevator doors, and home security systems, for instance, were invented by Black people. Some Background In 1790, the Patent Act was one of the first pieces of legislation passed by the first U.S. Congress. Free Black citizens could obtain patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, however, enslaved Black people could not. It wasn’t until 1865 that slavery was abolished, with the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Before that, Black innovators and their inventions were often claimed by their enslavers or other non-Black people. According to the American Bar Association, the patent system simply was not available at that time to enslaved people. Unfortunately, they were not considered American citizens, and the rights of the Constitution did not extend to them. Additionally, states enacted laws that prevented enslaved people from owning any kind of property, including patents. Shortly after President George Washington signed the Patent Act in April 1790, Samuel Hopkins, a man from Philadelphia, got the first U.S. patent for improving how Pot ash and Pearl ash are made. It wasn’t until 1821 that Thomas Jennings, a Black inventor, got a U.S. patent for his dry-cleaning methods. Meanwhile, the first woman received a patent in 1809. Martha Jones, the first known Black woman to get a U.S. patent, didn't receive a patent for her improvement to the Corn Husker, Sheller, until 1868. Black innovators and creatives have created numerous everyday items that simplify life. While some Black inventors are well-known, many others remain unrecognized. This could have been due to financial barriers preventing them from obtaining patents or legal support for their ideas. Check out some of these inventions created by Black people below.

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