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When people think of Black innovation, we usually refer to hip-hop and music. However, countless African-American inventions have gone largely unrecognized. Here are just a few inventions created by Black Americans that are still used today. 

Home Security System: Marie van Brittan Brown 

Marie van Brittan Brown started her career as a nurse, while her husband worked as an electronics technician. They both worked during different times, leaving Brown alone late at night. And because she lived in a high-crime neighborhood, where the police were often slow to respond to emergency calls, Brown feared for her safety during those hours. So, in 1966 she and her husband invented a four-peephole safety system consisting of a camera, two-way microphones, and television monitors. There was also a remote that enabled the system, and an emergency button that would alert the police. Three years later, they received a patent for their invention, and Brown was given an award from the National Scientists Committee for her creation. Her contribution is still credited and is cited in 32 patent applications.

Traffic Light & Smoke Hood: Garrett Morgan 

A man who only had an elementary education patented 26 inventions including the three-position traffic light, hair-straightening products, and a sewing machine belt fastener. He also invented the smoke hood (created before the gas mask); in 1916, firefighters used it to rescue passengers from a subway fire. 

Caller ID, Touch-Tone Phone & Fiber Optics: Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson graduated as the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She and her colleagues conducted much successful scientific research, which helped create fiber optics, caller ID, fax machines, and touch-tone phones. Not only did she help with creating standard technologies, but she also gained notoriety for her commitment to Black representation in STEM. She strived to increase the number of Black students entering MIT, and because of her efforts, in just one year the number of Black students rose from 2 to 57

The Super Soaker: Lonnie Johnson 

Lonnie Johnson grew up in Mobile, Alabama where Black inventors were sparse and underrepresented. In high school, he attended a science fair in Alabama where he was the only Black student. And after winning the event, no one came to congratulate him. But, that didn’t stop him at all. In 1969, Johnson attended Tuskegee University and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1973 and a Master’s in nuclear engineering in 1975. He worked in the Air Force and NASA for several years until 1990, when he invented and patented the Super Soaker. This childhood favorite landed Johnson in the National Toy Hall of Fame and is still known as the best-selling water toy of all time. 

Numerous Peanut Products: George Washington Carver

Contrary to popular belief, George Washington Carver didn’t invent peanut butter. Shocking, right? However, he did invent almost 300 products from peanuts, including flour, soap, antiseptics, and shaving cream. In 1896, Carver accepted Booker T. Washington’s invitation to lead the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee University, where he created most of his inventions. One of his most notable accomplishments was crop rotation. Back then, cotton depleted Southern soil. However, Carver’s idea of alternating cotton with soil-enriching crops improved soil quality.

Honorable Mentions:

Laserphaco (Cataract Surgery Device)Dr. Patricia Bath
African-American Hair Care ProductsMadam C.J. Walker
Potato Chips George Crum (also known as George Speck)
Automatic Elevator DoorsAlexander Miles
Refrigerated Trucks Fredrick McKinley Jones

How many Black inventors can you name?


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