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David Fisher

David Fisher responded to the needs of furniture workers by trying to make their work easier, safer and more productive. He created and patented two devices which eased the burden of these workers and improved their efforts.

His first invention was aimed at freeing up time for carpenters and furniture makers. At the time, when furniture was being put together, a worker was forced to work in slow steps, pausing at various times to combine pieces of wood together in order to allow glue to bind them. Fisher solved this delay by developing the joiner’s clamp, which he patented on April 20, 1875. The joiner’s clamp consisted of two pieces of wood connected by two screws. When tightened, the screws pushed the pieces of wood together. He used this device to hold together furniture parts as they were glued, thus freeing the worker to continuing assembling the item. By using applied, balanced pressure, the joiner’s clamp caused the wood to bind together, faster and stronger than was previously possible.

Another dilemma facing workers in the furniture industry was the laborious task of moving heavy pieces of furniture. In addition to having to concern themselves with their own physical safety, they also had to worry about dropping the furniture and damaging other items in the room by bumping into them. On March 14, 1876, Fisher patented the furniture caster. This device was a free turning wheel that could (when combined with a few others) allow heavy items to move around a room on rollers, safely and efficiently. This enabled one person to move large pieces of furniture, allowing other workers to tend to other items. This device is now used in almost every industry a well as in most homes.

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Edward Lewis

Edward Lewis had a problem with people trespassing on his property, especially poachers. Unfortunately, the only way to prevent people from coming on to his his land would be to hide out on the property at all hours, day and night.

Lewis solved this problem by developing a spring gun, which he patented on May 3, 1887. The spring gun was made of a metal tube which sat atop a block of wood with a wire attached to a trigger mechanism. The other end of the wire ran across the ground or was stretched across an area and attached to a post or a tree. Anyone disturbing the wire would cause the gun to discharge, thereby shooting the trespasser.

Ernest Just

Ernest Everett Just - blackinventor.comErnest Just was born on August 14, 1883 in Charleston, South Carolina. His mother worked as a school teacher and his father, a dock worker, died when Ernest was only four years old, forcing him to have to work in the fields after school each day. Because high schools in the South provided such poor education at that time, Ernest’s mother decided to send him North to receive better schooling. Through hard work, Ernest was able to earn enough money to attend the Kimball Academy in New Hampshire. The Kimball Academy was an exclusive school and Just proved himself worthy by excelling in his classes. As the editor of the school newspaper and President of the debating team, Ernest completed the four year program in only three, graduating with honors as the valedictorian of his class.

In 1903, Just entered Dartmouth College and decided to become a research biologist specializing in cytology (the study of cells). Learning under the guidance of world famous zoologist William Patten, Just excelled and received degrees in history and biology. Upon graduation in 1907, he had already been elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honors fraternity, was named class valedictorian and was the only member of his class to graduate Magna Cum Laude.

In October 1907, Ernest Just was hired by Howard University in Washington, D.C. and would eventually become the head of the biology department while also heading the physiology department and serving as a member of the Medical School’s faculty. With all of these responsibilities, Just was still able to pursue a Ph.D. in Zoology, which he received in 1916 from the University of Chicago. He experimented with the reproductive systems and cells of marine animals in the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. His research and papers on Marine biology were so well received that in 1915, at age 32, Just was awarded the first Spingarn Medal by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Over the next 20 years, Just would perform studies on marine animals and their eggs as well as on their cell structures. He believed that in learning about healthy cells and cell structures, man could hope to understand and find cures for cellular irregularities and diseases such as sickle cell anemia and cancer. He also researched parthenogenesis (developing marine eggs without fertilization). He quickly became one of the most respected scientists in his field, but much of that recognition came from abroad as racial bigotry in the United States caused much of his work and his achievements to go unrewarded.

In other countries, he was treated as a a pioneer, recruited to work with Russian scientists and invited to be a guest worker at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology, at the time the world’s greatest scientific research laboratory. He was also welcomed with open arms at the Naples Zoological Station in Italy and the Sorbonne in France, where he conducted research and shared his ideas.

Ernest Just died on October 27, 1941 of cancer, leaving behind a wife, Ethel, and three children. He also left behind a world which would eventually recognize him as the most outstanding zoologist of his time.

 




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Fred Jones

Fred Jones - blackinventor.comFred McKinley Jones is certainly one of the most important Black inventors ever based on the sheer number of inventions he formulated as well as their diversity.

Fred Jones was born on May 17, 1893 in Covington, Kentucky. His father was a white railroad worker of Irish descent and his mother was Black. It is believed that his mother died while he was young and Fred was raised by his father. When Fred was eight years old, his father took him to Cincinnati, Ohio to where they visited St. Mary’s Catholic Church rectory. Fred’s father urged Father Edward A. Ryan to take Fred in in order to expose him to an environment where he might have a better opportunity for gaining an education. Fred performed chores around the church in return for being fed and housed, cutting the grass, shoveling snow, scrubbing floors and learning to cook. At an early age, Fred demonstrated a great interest in mechanical working, whether taking apart a toy, a watch or a kitchen appliance. Eventually he became interested in automobiles, so much so that upon turning 12 years of age, he ran away from his home at the rectory and began working at the R.C. Crothers Garage.

Initially hired to sweep and clean the garage, Fred spent much of his time observing the mechanics as they worked on cars. His observation, along with a voracious appetite for learning through reading developed within Fred an incredible base of knowledge about automobiles and their inner workings. Within three years, Fred had become the foreman of the garage. The garage was primarily designed to repair automobiles brought in by customers but also served as a studio for building racing cars. After a few years of building these cars, Fred desired to drive them and soon became one of the most well known racers in the Great Lakes region. After brief stints working aboard a steamship and a hotel, Jones moved to Hallock, Minnesota began designing and building racecars which he drove them at local tracks and at county fairs. His favorite car was known as Number 15 and it was so well designed it not only defeated other automobile but once triumphed in a race against an airplane.

On August 1, 1918 Jones enlisted in the 809 Pioneer Infantry of the United States Army and served in France during World War I. While serving, Jones recruited German prisoners of war and rewired his camp for electricity, telephone and telegraph service. After being discharged by the Army, Fred returned to Hallock in 1919. Looking for work, Jones often aided local doctors by driving them around for housecalls during the winter season. When navigation through the snow proved difficult, Fred attached skis to the undercarriage of an old airplane body and attached an airplane propeller to a motor and soon whisked around town a high speeds in his new snowmachine. Over the next few years Fred began tinkering with almost everything he could find, inventing things he could not find and improving upon those he could. When one of the doctors he worked for on occasion complained that he wished he did not have to wait for patient to come into his office for x-ray exams, Jones created a portable x-ray machine that could be taken to the patient. Unfortunately, like many of his early inventions, Jones never thought to apply for a patent for machine and watched helplessly as other men made fortunes off of their versions of the device. Undaunted, Jones set out for other projects, including a radio transmitter, personal radio sets and eventually motion picture devices.

In 1927, Jones was faced with the problem of helping friend convert their silent movie theater into a “talkie” theater. Not only did he convert scrap metal into the parts necessary to deliver a soundtrack to the video, he also devised ways to stabilize and improve the picture quality. When Joe Numero, the head of Ultraphone Sound Systems heard about Fred’s devices, he invited Fred to come to Minneapolis for a job interview. After taking a position with the company, Fred began improving on many of the existing devices the company sold. Many of his improvements were so significant, representatives from A.T. & T and RCA sat down to talk with Fred and were amazed at the depth of his knowledge on intricate details, particularly in light of his limited educational background. Around this time, Fred came up with a new idea – an automatic ticket-dispensing machine to be used at movie theaters. Fred applied for and received a patent for this device in June of 1939 and the patent rights were eventually sold to RCA.

At some point, Joe Numero was presented with the task of developing a device which would allow large trucks to transport perishable products without them spoiling. Jones set to work and developed a cooling process that could refrigerate the interior of the tractor-trailer. In 1939 Fred and Joe Numero received a patent for the vehicle air-conditioning device which would later be called a Thermo King.

This product revolutionized several industries including shipping and grocery businesses. Grocery chains were now able to import and export products which previously could only have been shipped as canned goods. Thus, the frozen food industry was created and the world saw the emergence of the “supermarket.”

In addition to installing the Thermo King refrigeration units in trucks and tractor-trailers, Jones modified the original design so they could be outfitted for trains, boats and ships.

During World War II, the Department of Defense found a great need portable refrigeration units for distributing food and blood plasma to troops in the field. The Department called upon Thermo King for a solution. Fred modified his device and soon had developed a prototype which would eventually allow airplanes to parachute these units down behind enemy lines to the waiting troops.

For the next 20 years, Fred Jones continued make improvements on existing devices and devised new inventions when necessary to aid the public. Jones died on February 21, 1961 and was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology, one of the greatest honors an inventor could receive. Jones was the first Black inventor to ever receive such an honor.

 

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Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan - blackinventor.comGarrett Morgan is one of those rare people who are able to come up with an extraordinary inventions which have a tremendous impact on society – and then follows that up with even more!

Garrett Morgan was born on March 4, 1877 in Paris, Kentucky the seventh of 11 children born to Sydney and Elizabeth Morgan. Garrett, at the early age of 14 decided that he should travel north to Ohio in order to receive a better education. Morgan is an inspiration to many education seekers today, whether pursuing business with an AACSB accredited online MBA or masters in education. He moved to Cincinnati and then to Cleveland, working as a handyman in order to make ends meet. In Cleveland, he learned the inner workings of the sewing machine and in 1907 opened his own sewing machine store, selling new machines and repairing old ones. In 1908 Morgan married Mary Anne Hassek with whom he would have three sons.

In 1909, Morgan opened a tailoring shop, selling coats, suits and dresses. While working in this shop he came upon a discover which brought about his first invention. He noticed that the needle of a sewing machine moved so fast that its friction often scorched the thread of the woolen materials. He thus set out to develop a liquid that would provide a useful polish to the needle, reducing friction. When his wife called him to dinner, he wiped the liquid from his hands onto a a piece of pony-fur cloth. When he returned to his workshop, he saw that the fibers on the cloth were now standing straight up. He theorized that the fluid had actually straightened the fibers. In order to confirm his theory, he decided to apply some of the fluid to the hair of a neighbor’s dog, an Airedale. The fluid straightened the dog’s hair so much, the neighbor, not recognizing his own pet, chased the animal away. Morgan then decided try the fluid on himself, to small portions of his hair at first, and then to his entire head. He was successful and had invented the first human-hair straightener. He marketed the product under the name the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream and sold by his G. A. Morgan Refining Company, which became a very successful business.

In 1912, Morgan developed another invention, much different from his hair straightener. Morgan called it a Safety Hood and patented it as a Breathing Device, but the world came to know it as a Gas Mask. The Safety Hood consisted of a hood worn over the head of a person from which emanated a tube which reached near the ground and allowed in clean air. The bottom of the tube was lined with a sponge type material that would help to filter the incoming air. Another tube existed which allowed the user to exhale air out of the device. Morgan intended the device to be used “to provide a portable attachment which will enable a fireman to enter a house filled with thick suffocating gases and smoke and to breathe freely for some time therein, and thereby enable him to perform his duties of saving life and valuables without danger to himself from suffocation. The device is also efficient and useful for protection to engineers, chemists and working men who are obliged to breathe noxious fumes or dust derived from the materials in which they are obliged to work.”

The National Safety Device Company, with Morgan as its General Manager was set up to manufacture and sell the device and it was demonstrated at various exhibitions across the country. At the Second International Exposition of Safety and Sanitation, the device won first prize and Morgan was award a gold medal. While demonstrations were good for sales, the true test of the product would come only under real life circumstances.

That opportunity arose on July 24, 1916 when an explosion occurred in a tunnel being dug under Lake Erie by the Cleveland Water Works. The tunnel quickly filled with smoke, dust and poisonous gases and trapped 32 workers underground. They were feared lost because no means of safely entering and rescuing them was known. Fortunately someone at the scene remembered about Morgan’s invention and ran to call him at his home where he was relaxing. Garrett and his brother Frank quickly arrived at the scene, donned the Safety Hood and entered the tunnel. After a heart wrenching delay, Garrett appeared from the tunnel carrying a survivor on his back as did his brother seconds later. The crowd erupted in a staggering applause and Garrett and Frank reentered the tunnel, this time joined by two other men. While they were unable to save all of the workers, the were able to rescue many who would otherwise have certainly died. Reaction to Morgan’s device and his heroism quickly spread across the city and the country as newspapers picked up on the story. Morgan received a gold medal from a Cleveland citizens group as well as a medal from the International Association of Fire Engineers, which also made him an honorary member.

Soon, orders came in from fire and police departments across the country. Unfortunately, many of these orders were canceled when it was discovered that Morgan was Black. Apparently, many people would rather face danger and possibly death than rely on a lifesaving device created by a Black man. Nonetheless, with the outbreak of World War I and the use of poisonous gases therein, Morgan’s Safety Hood, now known as the Gas Mask was utilized by the United States Army and saved the lives of thousands of soldiers.

Although he could have relied on the income his Gas Masks generated, Morgan felt compelled to try to solve safety problems of the day. One day he witnessed a traffic accident when an automobile collided with a horse and carriage. The driver of the automobile was knocked unconscious and the horse had to be destroyed. He set out to develop a means of automatically directing traffic without the need of a policeman or worker present. He patented an automatic traffic signal which he said could be “operated for directing the flow of traffic” and providing a clear and unambiguous “visible indicator.”

Satisfied with his efforts, Morgan sold the rights to his device to the General Electric Company for the astounding sum of $40,000.00 and it became the standard across the country. Today’s modern traffic lights are based upon Morgan’s original design.

At that point, Morgan was honored by many influential people around him, including such tycoons as John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan (after whom he named one of his sons.) Although his successes had brought him status and acclaim, Morgan never forgot that his fellow Blacks still suffered injustices and difficulties. His next endeavor sought to address these as he started a newspaper called the Cleveland Call (later renamed as the Call & Post.) He also served as the treasurer of the Cleveland Association of Colored Men which eventually merged with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and ran as a candidate for Cleveland’s City Council

In his later years, Morgan would develop glaucoma and would thereby lose 90% of his vision. He died on July 27, 1963 and because of his contribution, the world is certainly a much safer place.


 

Listen to the Great Black Heroes Podcast About Garrett Morgan

 

The Man Behind The Traffic Signal



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