Black Inventor -

Albert Richardson

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.

Andre Reboucas

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.

Andrew Beard

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.

Black Inventor -

Benjamin Bradley

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.

Benjamin Montgomery

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.

Black Inventor -

Benjamin Thornton

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.