Historically Significant Black Inventions



Inventions solve problems and change our lives. Inventions surround us and we often may not know who invented what. Listed below are commonly known and regularly used inventions made by black inventors.

  1. Thomas Jennings was the first black person to get a patent. Thomas L. Jennings was a black inventor, entrepreneur, tradesmen, and abolitionist in New York City, New York. Jennings has the title of being the first black patent-holder in history; he was granted the patent in 1821 for his new method of dry cleaning. 


  1.  George Washington Carver was a black inventor and scientist who advanced alternative crops to cotton and methods to prevent soil depletion. Carver was the most prominent black scientist of the early 20th century. Carver is famous for many additional creations and ideas,  including a number of uses for the peanut, most famously peanut butter.


  1. Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. was a black inventor, community leader, and businessman. Morgan invented the traffic light in response to an accident, when he witnessed an automobile collision with a horse-drawn carriage. After Morgan saw the carnage, he then decided to do something to increase safety on the roads and to control traffic patterns. The “Morgan traffic signal” was a T-shaped pole unit that featured three positions: Stop, Go and an all-directional stop position. This “third position” halted traffic in all directions to allow pedestrians to cross streets more safely.


  1. Lonnie George Johnson was black inventor, aerospace engineer, and entrepreneur who worked as an U.S. Air Force-term of service and was also a NASA engineer, working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Lonnie’s most famous invention was the Super Soaker water gun in 1990, which has been among the world’s best selling toys ever since.


  1. Alfred L. Cralle was a black businessman and inventor of the “Ice Cream Mold and Disher”. The invention was an ice cream scooper with a built-in scraper to allow for one-handed operation. Alfred’s functional design is reflected in modern ice cream scoopers.


  1. Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was a black female inventor who is known for her invention of the sanitary belt. Due to racial discrimination, her patent for the sanitary belt was prevented for thirty years. Kenner received five other patents, which included her invention of bathroom tissue holders. Kenner patented a bathroom toilet tissue holder that allowed the loose end of a roll to be accessible at all times.


  1. Albert Potts was a black inventor who invented  The first letter box (where the public could leave its letters) which was supported by the United States Postal Service. The invention was patented on March 9, 1858.  


  1. George Crum was a black chef who worked at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York during the mid-1800s. Crum is credited for the invention of the potato chip. 


  1. Charles Richard Drew was a black American surgeon and medical researcher. Drew researched in the field of blood transfusions and developed improved techniques for blood storage. Drew applied his expertise and knowledge to developing large-scale blood banks early in World War II.


  1. Alexander Miles was a black inventor and businessman. Miles is known for his invention and patent for automatic elevator doors. Originally elevators were manual and had to be opened and closed by passengers or elevator operators. Manual elevator doors came with many safety risks. Miles’ invention was inspired after an elevator ride with his daughter when the doors remained open as the car traveled through the shaft. Miles designed a flexible elastic belt to attach to the elevator doors, allowing them to close automatically when the car was in motion. 


  1. John Lee Love was a carpenter in Fall River, Massachusetts, who invented various devices. In 1897, Love patented a portable pencil sharpener called the “Love Sharpener.” John Lee Love was a carpenter so he always had a need and purpose for a pencil. He needed a sharpener that was portable, easy-to-use, and wouldn’t make a mess.


  1.  Osbourn Dorsey was a black inventor who invented both the doorknob and doorstop in December of 1878.Dorsey made a doorknob so people can get in their house with no problem. Dorsey also invented the door stop so that way doors could be held open on its own. 


Black inventors are among history’s most respected geniuses who are known for their creative minds, passionate research, and their desire to push the envelope.