Today marks the beginning of Black History Month. Many around the world are familiar with the stories of George Washington Carver (nicknamed the “Black Leonardo” by TIME magazine in 1941) and Madam C.J. Walker (whose real name was Sarah Breedlove). Others have also heard of Lewis Latimer, who taught himself mechanical drawing after returning from the Civil War and patented a carbon filament for the incandescent lightbulb. The list of African American inventors expands far beyond the space for this post, but here at EverydayIP – we would like to highlight some of the less-talked about inventors and contributors.
Did you know that Thomas L. Jennings was the first African American man to receive a patent in the United States? Jennings invented an early method of dry cleaning called “dry scouring,” patenting it in 1821 and paving the way for other inventors of color to put their inventions into the stream of commerce.
Jenning’s patent came four years before Paris tailor Jean Baptiste Jolly refined his own chemical technique and established what many people claim was history’s first dry cleaning business.
Next is the Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D. Dr. Jackson was the first Black woman to graduate with a Ph.D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“M.I.T.”), her research specialty being theoretical condensed matter physics and the physics of opto-electronic materials. She is responsible for the research that led to the invention of the touch-tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables and the technology enabling caller ID and call waiting. Former President Barack Obama presented Dr. Jackson with the National Medal of Science in 2014.
Similarly impressive is Dr. Patricia Bath. Dr. Bath transformed the field of ophthalmology when she invented the Laserphaco Probe, a device that refined laser cataract surgery. She is recognized as the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent. She co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, and her research on health disparities between African American patients and other patients created a new medical discipline, called “community ophthalmology.”
Finally, Granville Woods (known as the “Black Edison”) made key contributions to the development of the telephone and the streetcar, holding more than 60 patents in his lifetime. Woods’s most notable invention was for a type of communication called the induction telegraph system. The system allowed moving trains to communicate, helping them avoid collisions and dangers on the tracks. It also helped dispatchers locate trains.
In honor of African American History Month, Everyday IP would like to honor those inventors who contributed these life-changing inventions. They have contributed, not just to the field of intellectual property, but also to society as a whole. EverydayIP salutes you.