Greatest African-American inventors

By Christopher R Rice

Some African-American inventors in no particular order.


Patricia Bath The ophthalmologist invented the Laserphaco Probe in 1986, which was patented two years later. The device used an innovative way to remove cataracts with a laser and helped reduce inaccuracies in surgeries.

Charles R. Drew The physician and surgeon is known for his pioneering work in the field of blood transfusions that was instrumental in the development of modern blood banks. During his tenure at Columbia University, Drew came up with a method for separating red blood cells from plasma and thereby, being able to store them separately. He used this knowledge to work with the Allied Forces to supervise blood preservation and delivery during World War II. However, the medical researcher resigned from his position in protest of the Red Cross' practice of racial segregation in the field of blood donation.

Garrett Morgan Morgan is credited with developing the world's first gas mask. After seeing firefighters struggle to do their jobs amidst all the smoke,, he designed a breathing hood in 1912 which allows the user to breath when there is lack of oxygen, or presence of poisonous gases, dust and smoke in a confined space. On July 24, 1916, a group of Cleveland Water Works personnel were trapped due to an explosion in the tunnel they were working on, 50 ft (15.2 m) below Lake Erie. When Morgan was called for help, he donned the mask and helped rescue the workers. Not only did Morgan receive a gold medal from a Cleveland citizens group and a medal from the International Association of Fire Engineers, his invention became immensely popular after the incident and was later used by the American forces during the World War I. He also invented the first human-hair straightener, which he successfully marketed as G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream, in 1909.

Jan Ernst Matzeliger Matzeliger revolutionized the shoe-making industry with his invention, the automated shoe lasting machine. In the early days of boot-making, hand lasters were responsible for sewing the sole with the upper portion of the shoe. The process was intricate and a highly skilled laster could produce 50 pairs in 10 hours. Matzeliger's machine was able to produce between 150 to 700 pairs a day, at a much-reduced cost. He patented his design in March 1883.

Madam C. J. Walker Born as Sarah Breedlove into a family of freed slaves, Walker went on to become one of the first American female self-made millionaires through her chain of hair and beauty product salons. She invented a line of African-American hair care products and eventually established the C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. She also started a franchise system, thus empowering hundreds of African-American women who, at that time, had very limited employment options.

Marjorie Stewart Joyner Inventor of the "Permanent Waving Machine," Joyner studied cosmetology and was the first African-American woman to graduate from A.B. Molar Beauty School in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. in 1916. After she met Madam C. J. Walker, Joyner decided to work with her as a National Adviser and oversaw 200 of Walker's beauty schools. In 1939, in order to find an easier way to help women straighten their hair, she designed the permanent wave device, which helps set the hair style for several days. She patented her design in 1928.

Percy Julian The synthetic chemistry pioneer was the first to create the natural chemical physostigmine. He used plant sterols, such as stigmasterol and sitosterol, to chemically produce essential hormones such as testosterone and progesterone. His work acted as a catalyst for the steroid industry's manufacturing of birth control pills, cortisone and other corticosteroids. Holder of over 130 chemical patents, Julian was the first African-American chemist to be inducted into the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

Frederick McKinley Jones Winner of the National Medal of Technology and inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Jones is credited with designing an air-cooling device for trucks which carry perishable food. In 1935, he developed his design and patented it in July 12, 1940. His invention became indispensable during World War II, helping preserve blood, medicine and food at army hospitals or battlefields. Along with Joseph Numero, he co-founded Thermo King, the popular portable transport temperature control system company.

George Washington Carver As a botanist, Carver was known for his promotion of alternate crops to cotton, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes. He invented numerous different uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes - including dyes, ropes, flour, skin lotion, even shoe polish.  He did not, however, invent peanut butter!

Thomas Mensah Mensah's ground-breaking work in fixing efficiency issues in fiber optics and nanotechnology has earned him seven worldwide patents and seven USA patents. He was inducted into the USA National Academy of inventors on March 20, 2015.

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