The Black Inventor Online Museum Profiles on African American and Black Inventors Over the Last 300 Years Tue, 06 Oct 2015 17:09:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Albert Richardson Mon, 26 Nov 2012 02:53:13 +0000 Inventor of the Butter Churn and a casket lowering device.

Albert Richardson was one of those rare inventors who not only created numerous devices, but created devices that were completely unrelated to one another.

Until 1891 anyone wanting to make butter would have to do so by hand in a bowl. On February 17, 1891 Richardson patented the butter churn. The device consisted of a large wooden cylinder container with a plunger-like handle which moved up and down. In doing so, the movement caused oily parts of cream or milk to become separated from the more watery parts. This allowed for an easy way to make butter and forever changed the food industry.

In 1894, Richardson saw a problem with the way the bodies of dead people were buried. It was common at that time to simply bury bodies in small, shallow graves or to try to lower their caskets with ropes into a deeper hole. Unfortunately, this required several people to work in unison to ensure that the casket was lowered evenly. Failure to do so could cause the casket to slip out of one of the ropes and to be damaged from hitting the ground. On November 13, 1894, Richardson patented the casket lowering device which consisted of a series of pulleys and ropes or cloths which ensured uniformity in the lowering process. This invention was very significant at that time and is used in all cemeteries today.

In addition to these devices, Richardson patented a hame fastener in 1882, an insect destroyer in February of 1899 and an improvement in the design of the bottle in December of 1899.

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Andre Reboucas Mon, 26 Nov 2012 02:52:12 +0000 Andre Reboucas - blackinventor.comAndre Reboucas was born in 1838 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was trained at the Military School of Rio de Janeiro and became an engineer after studying in Europe. After returning to Brazil, Reboucas was named a lieutenant in the engineering corps in the 1864 Paraguayan War. During the war, as naval vessels became more and more integral, Reboucas designed an immersible device which could be projected underwater, causing an explosion with any ship it hit. The device became known as the torpedo.

After his military career, Reboucas began teaching at the Polytechnical School in Rio de Janeiro and became very wealthy. He used his wealth to aid in the Brazilian abolition movement, trying to end slavery in Brazil. After growing disgusted with conditions in Brazil, Reboucas moved to Funchal, Madeira, off of the coast of Africa where he died in 1898.

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Andrew Beard Mon, 26 Nov 2012 00:51:46 +0000 Andrew BeardAndrew Jackson Beard hailed from Eastlake, Alabama, a small town outside of Birmingham. With the emergence of the railroad industry and its rapid expansion throughout the country, an alarming number of railmen suffered serious injuries to their arms and legs when they were crushed during manual style coupling of railroad cars. During manual coupling, a worker would have to attempt to precisely time the moment when two railroad cars being pushed together would be close enough for that worker to drop a metal pin between their connectors, thus engaging the cars. If the worker was off by one second he might severe damage his arm or leg – many in fact had to undergo amputation.

On November 27, 1897 Beard received a patent for a device he called the Jenny Coupler. Andrew Beard’s Jenny Coupler. The Jenny Coupler automatically joined cars by simply allowing them to bump into each other, or as Beard described it the “horizontal jaws engage each other to connect the cars.” Beard sold the rights to his invention for $50,000.00 and the railroad industry was revolutionized.

Andrew Beard -

During his lifetime, Beard received a number of other patents, including a steam driven rotary engine, and a double plow.

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Benjamin Banneker Sun, 11 Mar 2012 14:56:32 +0000 Benjamin Banneker -
Benjamin Banneker was born in 1731 just outside of Baltimore, Maryland, the son of a slave. His grandfather had been a member of a royal family in Africa and was wise in agricultural endeavors.His father, Robert, was an African slave who purchased his freedom and his mother, Mary, was the daughter of a freed African slave and an English woman. As a young man, he was allowed to enroll in a school run by Quakers and excelled in his studies, particularly in mathematics. Soon, he had progressed beyond the capabilities of his teacher and would often make up his own math problems in order to solve them.

One day his family was introduced to a man named Josef Levi who owned a watch. Young Benjamin was so fascinated by the object that Mr. Levi gave it to him to keep, explaining how it worked. Over the course of the next few days, Benjamin repeatedly took the watch apart and then put it back together. After borrowing a book on geometry and another on Isaac Newton’s Principia (laws of motion) he made plans to build a larger version of the watch, mimicking a picture he had seen of a clock. After two years of designing the clock and carving each piece by hand, including the gears, Banneker had successfully created the first clock ever built in the United States. For the next thirty years, the clock kept perfect time.

Benjamin Banneker - blackinventor.comIn 1776, the Third Continental Congress met and submitted the Declaration of Independence from England. Soon thereafter, the Revolutionary War broke out and Banneker set out to grow crops of wheat in order to help feed American troops. His knowledge of soil gained from his grandfather allowed him to raise crops in areas which had previously stood barren for years.

When a family friend died and left him a book on astronomy, a telescope and other scientific inventions, Banneker became fascinated with the stars and the skies. His friends Joseph and Joseph Ellicott loaned him books on astronomy as well as other tools and he taught himself astronomy and mathematics. He soon was able to predict events such as solar eclipses and sunrises and sunsets. In 1792, he developed his first almanac, predicting weather and seasonal changes and also included tips on planting crops and medical remedies. Banneker sent a copy of his book to Thomas Jefferson, at that time the Secretary of State and in a twelve page later expressed to Jefferson that Blacks in the United States possessed equal intellectual capacity and mental capabilities as those Whites who were described in the Declaration of Independence. As such, he stated, Blacks should also be afforded the same rights and opportunities afforded to whites. This began a long correspondence between the two men that would extend over several years.

Around the same time, President Washington decided to move the Nation’s Capitol from Philadelphia to an area on the border of Maryland and Virginia and Major Andrew Ellicott asked Banneker to assist in surveying the “Federal Territory”. Major Pierre L’Enfant from France was commissioned to develop the plans for for the new city and at Jefferson’s request, Banneker was included as one of the men appointed to assist him. Banneker consulted frequently with L’Enfant and studied his draft and plans for the Capitol City carefully. L’Enfant was subject to great criticism and hostility because he was a foreigner and abruptly resigned from the project and moved back to France.

Benjamin Banneker

As the remaining members of the team gathered, they began debating as to how they should start from scratch. Banneker surprised them when he asserted that he could reproduce the plans from memory and in two days did exactly as he had promised. The plans he drew were the basis for the layout of streets, buildings and monuments that exist to this day in Washington D.C.

Benjamin Banneker died quietly on October 25, 1806, lying in a field looking at the stars through his telescope. Nations around the world mourned his passing, viewing him as a genius and the United States’ first great Black Inventor. In 1980, the U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp in his honor.

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Benjamin Bradley Mon, 26 Nov 2012 01:06:59 +0000 Benjamin Bradley was born around 1830 as a slave in Maryland. He was able to read and write, although at the time it was illegal for a slave to do so (he likely learned from the Master’s children). He was put to work in a printing office and at the age of 16 began working with scrap he found, modeling it into a small ship. Eventually, with an intuitiveness that seemed far beyond him, he improved on his creation until he had built a working steam engine, made from a piece of a gun-barrel, pewter, pieces of round steel and some nearby junk. Those around him were so astounded by his high level of intelligence that he was placed in a new job, this time at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

In his new position he served as a classroom assistant in the science department. He helped to set up and conduct experiments, working with chemical gases. He was very good at his work, impressing the professors with his understanding of the subject matter and also with his preparedness in readying the experiments. In addition to the praise he received, he also received a salary, most of which went to his Master, but some of which (about $5.00 per month) he was able to keep.

Despite enjoying his job with the Naval Academy, Bradley had not forgotten his steam engine creation. He used the money he had been able to save from his job as well as the proceeds of the sale of his original engine (to a Naval Academy student) to build a larger model. Eventually he was able to finish an engine large enough to drive the first steam-powered warship at 16 knots. At the time, because he was a slave, he was unable to secure a patent for his engine. His master did, however, allow him to sell the engine and he used that money to purchase his freedom.

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Benjamin Montgomery Mon, 26 Nov 2012 02:41:26 +0000 Benjamin Montgomery - blackinventor.comBenjamin Montgomery was born into slavery in 1819 in Loudon County, Virginia. He was sold to Joseph E. Davis, a Mississippi planter. Davis was the older brother of Jefferson Davis who would later serve as the President of the Confederate States of America. After a period time, Davis could see great talent within Montgomery and assigned to him the responsibility of running his general store on the Davis Bend plantation. Montgomery, who by this time had learned to read and write (he was taught by the Davis children), excelled at running the store and served both white customers and slaves who could trade poultry and other items in return for dry goods. Impressed with his knowledge and abilities to run the store, Davis placed Montgomery in charge of overseeing the entirety of his purchasing and shipping operations on the plantation.

In addition to being able to read and write, Montgomery also learned a number of other difficult tasks, including land surveying, techniques for flood control and the drafting of architectural plans. He was also a skilled mechanic and a born inventor. At the time commerce often flowed through the rivers connecting counties and states. With differences in the depths of water in different spots throughout the river, navigation could become difficult. If a steamboat were to run adrift, the merchandise would be delayed for days, if not weeks.

Montgomery decided to address the problem and created a propellor that could cut into the water at different angles, thus allowing the boat to navigate more easily though shallow water. Joseph Davis attempted to patent the device but the patent was denied on June 10, 1858, on the basis that Ben, as a slave, was not a citizen of the United States, and thus could not apply for a patent in his name. Later, both Joseph and Jefferson Davis attempted to patent the device in their names but were denied because they were not the “true inventor.” Ironically, when Jefferson Davis later assumed the Presidency of the Confederacy, he signed into law the legislation that would allow a slaves to receive patent protection for their inventions. On June 28, 1864, Montgomery, no longer a slave, filed a patent application for his devise, but the patent office again rejected his application.

Upon the end of the Civil War, Joseph Davis sold his plantation as well as other properties to Montgomery, along with his son Isaiah. The sale was made based on a long-term loan in the amount of $300,000.00. Benjamin and Isaiah decided to pursue a dream of using the property to establish a community of freed slaves, but natural disasters decimated their crops, leaving them unable to pay off the loan. The Davis Bend property reverted back to the Davis family and Benjamin died the following year. Undeterred, Isaiah took up his father’s dream and later purchased 840 acres of land and along with a number of other former slaves, and founded the town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi in 1887. Isaiah was named the town first mayor soon thereafter.

While Benjamin Montgomery’s story sounds sad in it’s telling, it served as a lesson to whites and black in the Civil War period, demonstrating the power of education and the ability for blacks to contribute to commerce and industry in the American south.

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Benjamin Thornton Mon, 26 Nov 2012 03:16:31 +0000 In 1935, Benjamin Thornton created a device that could be attached to a telephone and could be set to record a voice message from a caller. By utilizing a clock attachment, the machine could also forward the messages as well as keep track of the time they were made.

This device was the predecessor of today’s answering machine.

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Charles Brooks Mon, 26 Nov 2012 01:07:57 +0000 Charles C.B. Brooks

Charles Brooks designed the street sweeper and patented it on March 17, 1896. Prior to his invention, streets were cleaned manually by workers picking up trash by hand or sweeping it with brooms. Brooks’ invention was made of a truck with a series of broom-like brushes attached which pushed trashed and debris off onto the side of the road.

The street sweeper initially faced a lot of resentment from workers who felt they could do a better job. Eventually, as cities grew bigger and more and more litter accumulated, the street sweeper became indispensable.

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Charles Drew Fri, 23 Mar 2012 15:21:40 +0000 Charles Drew -

Charles Drew was born on June 3, 1904 in Washington, D.C., the son of Richard and Nora Drew and eldest of five children. Charles was one of those rare individuals who seemed to excel at everything he did and on every level and would go on to become of pioneer in the field of medicine.

Charles’ early interests were in education, particularly in medicine, but he was also an outstanding athlete. As a youngster he was an award winning swimmer and starred Dunbar High School in football, baseball, basketball and track and field, winning the James E. Walker Memorial medal as his school’s best all around athlete. After graduation from Dunbar in 1922, he went on to attend Amherst College in Massachusetts where he captained the track team and starred as a halfback on the school’s football team, winning the Thomas W. Ashley Memorial trophy in his junior year as the team most valuable player and being named to the All-American team. Drew had a rich assortment of graduation announcements and convocations since his education was extensive through his life. Upon graduation from Amherst in 1926 he was awarded the Howard Hill Mossman trophy as the man who contributed the most to Amherst athletics during his four years in school.

After graduation from Amherst, Drew took on a position as a biology teacher at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland and also served as the school’s Athletic Director. During his two years at Morgan State, he helped to turn the school’s basketball and football programs into collegiate champions.

In 1928, Charles decided to pursue his interest in medicine and enrolled at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He was received as a member of the Medical Honorary Society and graduated in 1933 with Master of Surgery and Doctor of Medicine degrees, finishing second in his class of 127 students. He stayed in Montreal for a while as an intern at Montreal General Hospital and at the Royal Victoria Hospital. In 1935, he returned to the United States and began working as an instructor of pathology at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He was also a resident at Freedmen’s Hospital (the teaching hospital for Howard University) and was awarded the Rockefeller Foundation Research Fellowship.

He spent two years at Columbia University in New York attending classes and working as a resident at the Columbia University Presbyterian Hospital. During this time he became involved in research on blood and blood transfusions. Years back, while a student at McGill, he had saved a man by giving him a blood transfusion and had studied under Dr. John Beattie, an instructor of anatomy who was intensely interested in blood transfusions.

Charles Drew

Now at Columbia, he wrote a dissertation on “Banked Blood” in which he described a technique he developed for the long-term preservation of blood plasma. Prior to his discovery, blood could not be stored for more than two days because of the rapid breakdown of red blood cells. Drew had discovered that by separating the plasma (the liquid part of blood) from the whole blood (in which the red blood cells exist) and then refrigerating them separately, they could be combined up to a week later for a blood transfusion. He also discovered that while everyone has a certain type of blood (A, B, AB, or O) and thus are prevented from receiving a full blood transfusion from someone with different blood, everyone has the same type of plasma. Thus, in certain cases where a whole blood transfusion is not necessary, it was sufficient to give a plasma transfusion which could be administered to anyone, regardless of their blood type. He convinced Columbia University to establish a blood bank and soon was asked to go to England to help set up that country’s first blood bank. Drew became the first Black to receive a Doctor of Medical Science degree from Columbia and was now gaining a reputation worldwide.

Charles DrewOn September 29, 1939, Charles married Lenore Robbins, with whom he would have four children. At the same time, however, World War II was breaking out in Europe. Drew was named the Supervisor of the Blood Transfusion Association for New York City and oversaw its efforts towards providing plasma to the British Blood Bank. He was later named a project director for the American Red Cross but soon resigned his post after the United States War Department issued a directive that blood taken from White donors should be segregated from that of Black donors.

In 1942, Drew returned to Howard University to head its Department of Surgery, as well as the Chief of Surgery at Freedmen’s Hospital. Later he was named Chief of Staff and Medical Director for the Hospital. In 1948 he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for his work on blood plasma. He was also presented with the E. S. Jones Award for Research in Medical Science and became the first Black to be appointed an examiner by the American Board of Surgery. In 1945 he was presented honorary degrees of Doctor of Science from Virginia State College as well as Amherst College where he attended as an undergraduate student. In 1946 he was elected Fellow of the International College of Surgeons and in 1949 appointed Surgical Consultant for the United States Army’s European Theater of Operations.

Charles Drew -

Charles Drew died on April 1, 1950 when the automobile he was driving went out of control and turned over. Drew suffered extensive massive injuries but contrary to popular legend was not denied a blood transfusion by an all-White hospital – he indeed received a transfusion but was beyond the help of the experienced physicians attending to him. His family later wrote letters to those physicians thanking them for the care they provided. Over the years, Drew has been considered one of the most honored and respected figures in the medical field and his development of the blood plasma bank has given a second chance of live to millions.

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Daniel Hale Williams Fri, 23 Mar 2012 15:38:46 +0000 Daniel Hale Williams - blackinventor.comDaniel Hale Williams¬†was born on January 18, 1856 in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. He was the fifth of seven children born to Daniel and Sarah Williams. Daniel’s father was a barber and moved the family to Annapolis, Maryland but died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis. Daniel’s mother realized she could not manage the entire family and sent some of the children to live with relatives. Daniel was apprenticed to a shoemaker in Baltimore but ran away to join his mother who had moved to Rockford, Illinois. He later moved to Edgerton, Wisconsin where he joined his sister and opened his own barber shop. After moving to nearby Janesville, Daniel became fascinated with a local physician and decided to follow his path. He began working as an apprentice to the physician (Dr. Henry Palmer) for two years and in 1880 entered what is now known as Northwestern University Medical School. After graduation from Northwestern in 1883, he opened his own medical office in Chicago, Illinois.

Because of primitive social and medical circumstances existing in that era, much of Williams early medical practice called for him to treat patients in their homes, including conducting occasional surgeries on kitchen tables. In doing so, Williams utilized many of the emerging antiseptic, sterilization procedures of the day and thereby gained a reputation for professionalism. He was soon appointed as a surgeon on the staff of the South Side Dispensary and then a clinical instructor in anatomy at Northwestern. In 1889 he was appointed to the Illinois State Board of Health and one year later set for to create an interracial hospital.

On January 23, 1891 Daniel Hale Williams established the Provident Hospital and Training School Association, a three story building which held 12 beds and served members of the community as a whole.

The school also served to train Black nurses and utilized doctors of all races. Within its first year, 189 patients were treated at Provident Hospital and of those 141 saw a complete recovery, 23 had recovered significantly, three had seen change in their condition and 22 had died. For a brand new hospital, at that time, to see an 87% success rate was phenomenal considering the financial and health conditions of the patient, and primitive conditions of most hospitals. Much can be attributed to Williams insistence on the highest standards concerning procedures and sanitary conditions.

Daniel Hale Williams - blackinventor.comTwo and a half years later, on July 9, 1893, a young Black man named James Cornish was injured in a bar fight, stabbed in the chest with a knife. By the time he was transported to Provident Hospital he was seeking closer and closer to death, having lost a great deal of blood and having gone into shock.¬†Williams was faced with the choice of opening the man’s chest and possibly operating internally when that was almost unheard of in that day in age. Internal operations were unheard of because any entrance into the chest or abdomen of a patient would almost surely bring with it resulting infection and therefore death. Williams made the decision to operate and opened the man’s chest. He saw the damage to the man’s pericardium (sac surrounding the heart) and sutured it, then applied antiseptic procedures before closing his chest. Fifty one days later, James Cornish walked out of Provident Hospital completely recovered and would go on to live for another fifty years. Unfortunately, Williams was so busy with other matters, he did not bother to document the event and others made claims to have first achieved the feat of performing open heart surgery. Fortunately, local newspapers of the day did spread the news and Williams received the acclaim he deserved. It should be noted however that while he is known as the first person to perform an open heart surgery, it is actually more noteworthy that he was the first surgeon to open the chest cavity successfully without the patient dying of infection. His procedures would therefore be used as standards for future internal surgeries.

In February 1894, Daniel Hale Williams was appointed as Chief Surgeon at the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. and reorganized the hospital, creating seven medical and surgical departments, setting up pathological and bacteriological units, establishing a biracial staff of highly qualified doctors and nurses and established an internship program. Recognition of his efforts and their success came when doctors from all over the country traveled to Washington to view the hospital and to sit in on surgery performed there. Almost immediately there was an astounding increase in efficiency as well as a decrease in patient deaths.

During this time, Williams married Alice Johnson and the couple soon moved to Chicago after Daniel resigned from the Freedmen’s hospital. He resumed his position as Chief Surgeon at Provident Hospital (which could now accommodate 65 patients) as well as for nearby Mercy Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital, an exclusive hospital for wealthy White patients. He was also asked to travel across the country to attend to important patients or to oversee certain procedures.

Daniel Hale Williams -

When the American Medical Association refused to accept Black members, Williams helped to set up and served as Vice-President of the National Medical Association. In 1912, Williams was appointed associate attending surgeon at St. Luke’s and worked there until his retirement from the practice of medicine.

Upon his retirement, Daniel Hale Williams had bestowed upon him numerous honors and awards. He received honorary degrees from Howard and Wilberforce Universities, was named a charter member of the American College of Surgeons and was a member of the Chicago Surgical Society. Williams died on August 4, 1931, having set standards and examples for surgeons, both Black and White, for years to come.

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