Black History Month – Top Inventors

When people are asked to name inventors they will likely think of Watt, Edison or more recently Dyson or Jobs. But this is just one part of our history.  It’s important to realise that there are Inventors who may have been overlooked for social or political reasons. But their inventions are of equal importance. Here’s just a few I’ve researched this month.

George Washington Carver was born to slavery and worked on a plantation until he was around 10. Thanks to the abolition and despite prejudices he used a series of manual jobs and work through school and university. He went onto become an agricultural research scientist at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. When he found that the peanut and sweet potato grew well in the land around Alabama, he set about creating products derived from these. In total, nearly 500 inventions were created including, dyes,  plastics, medicinal oils, synthetic rubber and glue.

Another born to slavery was Sarah Boone, being freed in her teens she went on to marry and become a dressmaker. Her invention was to help with ironing of the tricky sleeves and bodies of ladies garments. She had the idea patented in 1892, something she would not have been able to do as a slave.

New Yorker Thomas L. Jennings started out as a tailor but whilst working on that he invented a new process for cleaning which he called “Dry Scouring”. After patenting his invention he used the money to free his family from slavery and fund abolitionist causes. Jenning’s great invention was the precursor to what we now call dry cleaning.

George Edward Alcorn, Jr. has designed space stations, devised techniques for manufacturing in space and plasma etching used to make semiconductors. He’s best known for the invention of the imaging x-ray spectrometer a tool which is used to examine distant galaxies. He’s been recognised by Nasa and Congress for his outstanding achievements.

Another New Yorker, Patricia Bath is an ophthalmologist and co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. As a child in Harlem, her parents saved up to get her an education. Her interest in sciences was started with a gift of a chemistry set from her mother. She’s invented a tool that allows eye surgeons to complete cateract operations more accurately and with less pain, the Laserphaco Probe.

Bessie Blount Griffin created a series of inventions to help soldiers injured in combat. As a physical therapist, she realised that many amputees had difficulty being independent. Her inventions allowed people without limbs to feed themselves. Her first version was large and unwieldy so she developed a smaller portable version which was patented in 1951. She also invented a disposable version of the emesis basin.


As mentioned above, these are but a few of the amazing black inventors, if you are interested in finding out more about others, see the links below.

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