BLACK INVENTORS AND THEIR INVENTIONS

This list of black inventors and scientists documents many of the African-Americans who have invented a multitude of items or made discoveries in the course of their lives. These have ranged from practical everyday devices to applications and scientific discoveries in diverse fields, including physics, biology, math, plus the medical, nuclear and space science.

Among the earliest was George Washington Carver, whose reputation was based on his research into and promotion of alternative crops to cotton, which aided in nutrition for farm families. He wanted poor farmers to grow alternative crops both as a source of their own food and as a source of other products to improve their way of life. The most popular of his 44 practical bulletins for farmers contained 105 food recipes using peanuts.[1] He also developed and promoted about 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house and farm. He received numerous honors for his work, including the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP.

A later renowned scientist was Percy Lavon Julian, a research chemist and a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He was the first to synthesize the natural product physostigmine, and a pioneer in the industrial large-scale chemical synthesis of the human hormones, steroidsprogesterone, and testosterone, from plant sterols such as stigmasterol and sitosterol. His work would lay the foundation for the steroid drug industry’s production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and birth control pills.

A contemporary example of a modern-day inventor is Lonnie George Johnson, an engineer. Johnson invented the Super Soaker water gun, which was the top-selling toy in the United States from 1991 to 1992. In 1980 Johnson formed his own law firm and licensed the Super Soaker water gun to Larami Corporation. Two years later, the Super Soaker generated over $200 million in retail sales and became the best selling toy in America. Larami Corporation was eventually purchased by Hasbro, the second largest toy manufacturer in the world. Over the years, Super Soaker sales have totaled close to one billion dollars. Johnson reinvested a majority of his earnings from the Super Soaker into research and development for his energy technology companies – “It’s who I am, it’s what I do.”[2] Currently,[when?] Johnson holds over 80 patents, with over 20 more pending, and is the author of several publications on spacecraft power systems.[

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NameYearsOccupation(s)Inventions / accomplishmentsReferences
Amos, Harold1918–2003MicrobiologistFirst African-American department chair at Harvard Medical School[5]
Alcorn, George Edward, Jr.1940–Physicist, inventorInvented a method of fabricating an imaging X-ray spectrometer[6][7]
Andrews, James J.1930–1998MathematicianPut forth the Andrews–Curtis conjecture in group theory with Morton L. Curtis, still unsolved[8]
Alexander, Archie1888–1958Civil engineerResponsible for the construction of many roads and bridges, including the Whitehurst Freeway, the Tidal Basin Bridge, and an extension to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
Bailey, Leonard C.1825–1918InventorFolding bed[9]
Ball, Alice Augusta1892–1916ChemistExtracted chaulmoogra oil for the treatment of Hansen’s disease (leprosy)[10]
Banneker, Benjamin1731–1806Mathematician, astronomersurveyorclockmaker, author, farmerWooden clock (1753); assisted in survey of the original boundaries of the District of Columbia (1791); authored almanac and ephemeris (1792–1797)[11]
Banyaga, Augustin1947–MathematicianWork on diffeomorphisms and symplectomorphisms[12]
Bashen, Janet1957–Inventor, entrepreneur, professional consultantFirst African-American woman to receive a patent for a web-based software invention, LinkLine, an Equal Employment Opportunity case management and tracking software[13]
Bath, Patricia1942–2019OphthalmologistFirst African-American female physician to receive a patent for a medical invention; inventions relate to cataract surgery and include the Laserphaco Probe, which revolutionized the industry in the 1980s, and an ultrasound technique for treatment[14][15][16]
Beard, Andrew1849–1921Farmer, carpenterblacksmithrailroad worker, businessman, inventorJanney coupler improvements; invented the car device #594,059 dated November 23, 1897; rotary engine patent #478,271 dated July 5, 1892[17]
Bell, Earl S.1977–Inventor, entrepreneur, architect, industrial designerInvented chair with sliding skin (2004) and the quantitative display apparatus (2005)[18][19] [20]
Benjamin, Miriam1861–1947Inventor, educatorInvented “Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels”; second African-American woman to receive a patent[21]
Berry, Leonidas1902–1995GastroenterologistGastroscope pioneer[22]
Bharucha-Reid, Albert T.1927–1985Mathematician, statisticianProbability theory and Markov chain theorist[23]
Black, Keith1957–NeurosurgeonBrain tumor surgery and research[24][25]
Blackwell, David1919–2010Mathematician, statisticianFirst proposed the Blackwell channel model used in coding theory and information theory; one of the eponyms of the Rao–Blackwell theorem, which is a process that significantly improves crude statistical estimators[26]
Blair, Henry1807–1860InventorSecond black inventor to issue a patent; invented seed planter and cotton planter.[27][28]
Boahen, Kwabena1964–BioengineerSilicon retina able to process images in the same manner as a living retina[29][30]
Boone, Sarah1832–1905InventorIroning board allowing sleeves of women’s garments to be ironed more easily[31][32][33]
Bouchet, Edward1852–1918PhysicistFirst African-American to receive a PhD in any subject; received physics doctorate from Yale University in 1876
Bowman, James1923–2011PhysicianPathologist and geneticist; Professor Emeritus Pritzker School of Medicine; first tenured African-American professor at the University of Chicago Division of Biological Sciences[34][35]
Boykin, Otis1920–1982Inventor, engineerArtificial heart pacemaker control unit[36][37][38]
Brady, St. Elmo1884–1966ChemistPublished three scholarly abstracts in Science; collaborated on a paper published in the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry[39]
Branson, Herman1914–1995Physicist, educatorProtein structure research[40][41]
Brooks, Charles1865– ?Inventor[citation needed]Street sweeper truck and a type of paper punch[42][43]
Brooks, Phil19xx–Inventor[citation needed]First US patent for a disposable syringe[citation needed]
Henry Brown1832– ?InventorInvented fire safe[44]
Brown, Oscar E.18xx– ?InventorReceived a patent for an improved horseshoe[45]
Brown, Marie Van Brittan1922–1999InventorInvented the home security system[46]
Burr, John Albert18xx– ?InventorRotary-blade lawn mower patent[47]
Cannon, Thomas C.1943–InventorLed a group of engineers who developed the Tactical Optical Fiber Connector (TOFC), the first fiber optic connector deployed under battlefield conditions, and the ST Connector that helped make fiber optic communications affordable.
Cardozo, William Warrick1905–1962PediatricianSickle cell anemia studies; in October 1937 he published “Immunologic Studies in Sickle Cell Anemia” in the Archives of Internal Medicine; many of the findings are still valid today
Carson, Ben1951–Pediatric neurosurgeonPediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University; first surgeon to successfully separate craniopagus twins[48]
Carruthers, George1939–AstrophysicistInvented ultraviolet camera/spectograph, which was used by NASA when it launched Apollo 16 in 1972[46]
Carver, George Washington1865–1943Botanical researcherDiscovered hundreds of uses for previously useless vegetables and fruits, principally the peanut[49][50][51][52]
Charles W. Chappelle1872–1941Electrician, construction, international businessman, and aviation pioneerDesigned long-distance flight airplane; the only African-American to invent and display the airplane at the 1911 First Industrial Air Show held in conjunction with the Auto Show at Grand Central Palace in Manhattan in New York City; president of the African Union Company, Inc.[53][54][55]
Chappelle, Emmett1925–Scientist and researcherValuable contributions to several fields: medicine, biologyfood science, and astrochemistry
Clark, Mamie1914–2005PsychologistConducted 1940s experiments using dolls to study children’s attitudes about race
Clark, Kenneth1917–1983PsychologistFirst Black president of the American Psychological Association[56]
Crosthwait, David, Jr.1898–1976Research engineerHeating, ventilation, and air conditioning; received some 40 US patents relating to HVAC systems
Curtis, James H (Nick)1935–Researcher, chemist (electronics/specialty chemicals)Organic ionogen for aluminum electrolytic capacitors, cationic dialdehyde polysaccharides for wet strength paper and others, US Patent Office US Pat #3609467 US Pat #3547423 and others
Dabiri, John1980–BiophysicistExpert on jellyfish hydrodynamics and designer of a vertical-axis wind farm adapted from schooling fish
Daly, Marie Maynard1921–2003ChemistFirst black American woman with a PhD in chemistry
Dean, Mark1957–Computer scientistLed the team that developed the ISA bus, and led the design team responsible for creating the first one-gigahertz computer processor chip[57][58][59]
Drew, Charles1904–1950Medical researcherDeveloped improved techniques for blood storage
Du Chaillu, Paul1831–1903Zoologist
explorer
Anthropologist
Explorer; first modern European outsider to confirm the existence of gorillas, and later the Pygmy people of central Africa; identified as white throughout life, but his mother was a Réunionnais mulatto; settled in America and considered it his country by adoption; the full aspects of his ancestry were not uncovered until 1979, and are still little known today
Easley, Annie1933–2011[60]Computer scientistWork at the Lewis Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics[61][62]
Ellis, Clarence “Skip”1943–Computer scientistFirst African American with a PhD in computer science; software inventor including OfficeTalk at Xerox PARC[63][64]
Ezerioha, Bisi1972–Automotive engineerDrag racing engineer and driver
Ferguson, Lloyd Noel1918–2011Chemist, educatorChemistry doctorate, first received (1943, University of California, Berkeley)[65][66][67]
Fryer, Roland G., Jr.1977–Economist, social scientist, statisticianInequality studies
Gates, Sylvester James1950–Theoretical physicistWork on supersymmetrysupergravity, and superstring theory[68][69]
Goode, Sarah E.1855–1905InventorCabinet bed invention; first African-American woman to receive a patent in the United States[70][71]
Gilbert, Juan E.1969–Computer scientistAwarded the first Presidential Endowed Chair at Clemson University in honor of his accomplishments
Grant, George F.1846–1910Dentist, professorThe first African-American professor at HarvardBoston dentist, and inventor of a wooden golf tee.[72]
Graves, Joseph L.1955–Evolutionary biologist[73][74][75]
Green, LisaLinguistSpecializes in syntax and the study of African American English
Greenaugh, Kevin1956–Nuclear engineer[76]
Griffin, Bessie Blount1914–2009Physical therapist, inventorAmputee self-feeding device[77][78]
Hall, Lloyd1894–1971Chemist
Harris, James A.1932–2000Co-discovered Rutherfordium (element 104) and Dubnium (element 105) at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory[79]
Hawkins, Walter Lincoln1911–1992ScientistInventor at Bell Laboratories[80]
Hodge, John E.1914–1996Chemist
Holley, Kerrie1954–Research computer scientist at IBMCo-creator of Service-Oriented Modeling and Architecture, SOMA and the Service Integration Maturity Model (SIMM)
Jackson, John W1953–2007Electrical Engineer, inventorCo-inventor of imaging x-ray spectrometer.
Jackson, Mary1921–2005Mathematician, Aerospace engineerNASA’s first black female engineer
Jackson, Dr. Shirley1946–PhysicistHelped develop technologies leading to the invention of the touch-tone telephone, portable fax, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology enabling caller ID and call waiting.[citation needed] However, in a recent article from MIT, there is no evidence that she helped to develop these technologies.[81][46][82]
Jarvis, Erich19xx–NeurobiologistDuke University neuroscience bird songs studies[83][84][85]
Jennings, Thomas L.1791 –1856InventorFirst African American to be granted a patent (for a dry cleaning process called dry scouring)[86]
Johnson, Isaac18xx– ?InventorHeld patent for improvements to the bicycle frame, specifically so it could be taken apart for compact storage[87]
Johnson, Lonnie1949–Mechanical engineer, nuclear engineer, inventorInvented Super Soaker while researching thermal energy transfer engines; worked with NASA; holder of over 80 patents[4][88][89][90]
Isola, Oluwabusuyi1965–ProfessorInternational Finance, inventorInvented Double Sided Guitar
Johnson, Katherine1918–Physicist, mathematicianMade contributions to the United States’ aeronautics and space programs with the early application of digital electronic computers at NASA.
Jones, Frederick McKinley1893–1961InventorInvented refrigerated truck systems[91]
Julian, Percy1899–1975ChemistFirst to synthesize the natural product physostigmine; earned 130 chemical patents; lauded for humanitarian achievements[92][93][94][95]
Just, Ernest1883–1941Woods Hole Marine Biology Institute biologistProvided basic and initial descriptions of the structure–function–property relationship of the plasma membrane of biological cells[96][97][98]
Kittles, Rick1967–GeneticistWork in tracing the ancestry of African Americans via DNA testing[99][100]
Kountz, Samuel L.1930–1981Transplant surgeon, researcherOrgan transplantation pioneer, particularly renal transplant research and surgery; author or co-author of 172 articles in scientific publications[101][102][103][104]
Latimer, Lewis1848–1928Inventor, draftsman, expert witnessWorked as a draftsman for both Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison; became a member of Edison’s Pioneers and served as an expert witness in many light bulb litigation lawsuits; said to have invented the water closet[105][106][107][108]
Lawson, Jerry1940–2011Computer engineerDesigner of Fairchild Channel F, the first programmable ROM cartridge-based video game console[109][110]
Lee, Raphael Carl1949–Surgeon, biomedical engineer[citation needed]Paul and Aileen Russell Professor, Pritzker School of Medicine; MacArthur Fellow, Searle Scholar, founder and chairman, Avocet Polymer Technologies, Inc.; founder and chairman, Renacyte BioMolecular Technologies, Inc; discovered use of surfactant copolymers as molecular chaperones to augment endogenous injury repair mechanisms of living cells; holder of many patents covering scar treatment therapies, tissue engineered ligaments, brain trauma therapies, and protective garments[citation needed][citation needed]
Lynk, Beebe Steven1872–1948ChemistTeacher at West Tennessee University
Mahoney, Mary1845–1926NurseFirst African American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States[111]
Matzeliger, Jan1852–1889InventorShoe assembly Machine[112][113]
McBay, Henry1914–1995ChemistHis discoveries allowed chemists around the world to create inexpensive peroxide compounds[114][115]
McCoy, Elijah1844–1929InventorInvented a version of the automatic lubricator for steam engines, McCoy learned a great deal of his skills from a mechanical apprenticeship when he was age fifteen .[116][117]
McLurkin, James1972–Roboticist[118]
McWhorter, John1965–LinguistSpecializes in the study of creole language formation
Montgomery, Benjamin1819–1877InventorDesigned a steam operated propeller to provide propulsion to boats in shallow water
Moore, Willie Hobbs1934–1994PhysicistFirst African American woman to earn a PhD in Physics (University of Michigan Ann Arbor 1972) on vibrational analysis of secondary chlorides[119]
Morgan, Garrett1877–1963InventorInvented an early version of a gas mask called a smoke hood, and created the first traffic light that included a third “warning” position which is standard today. Morgan also developed a chemical that was used in hair products for hair-straightening.[120][121]
Mensah, Thomas1950-Inventor
Miles, Alexander1838–1918InventorInvented electric elevator doors that automatically open and close[122]
Nmezi, Murphy1955–Physician/biostatisticianAdvances in path analysis and structural equation modeling
Nriagu, Jerome1944–GeochemistStudies toxic metals in the environment; supporter of the lead poisoning thesis of the decline of the Roman Empire
Ogbu, John Uzo1939–2003AnthropologistEthnic studies in education and economics[123][124]
Olukotun, Kunle19xx–Computer scientistEarly advocate and researcher of multi-core processors
Oyekan, Soni1946–Chemical engineerInventions in oil refining
Parker, Alice H.1895–InventorFurnace for Central Heating
Poindexter, Hildrus1901–1987BacteriologistepidemiologistWork on the epidemiology of tropical diseases, including malaria
Petters, Arlie1964–PhysicistWork on the mathematical physics of gravitational lensing
Quarterman, Lloyd Albert1918–1982Scientist, fluoride chemistManhattan Project, worked with Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi
Renfroe, Earl1907–2000Orthodontist[125][126]
Rillieux, Norbert1806–1894Engineer, inventorInventor of the multiple-effect evaporator[127]
Robinson, Larry1957–Environmental chemistInvestigated possible role of arsenic in the death of Zachary Taylor; interim president of Florida A&M University
Ross, ArchiaTurn of 20th centuryInventorA runner for stoops (1896), bag closure device (1898), a wrinkle-preventing trouser stretcher (1899), a garment-hanger (1903), and a holder for brooms and like articles.[128][129][130][131][132]
Russell, Jesse1948–Engineer, inventorWireless communications engineer
Sammons, Walter1890–1973InventorPatent for hot comb[133]
Sowell, Thomas1930–Economist, social scientistEconomist, social theorist and political philosopher[134][135][136][137]
Steele, Claude1946–Psychologistsocial scientistStereotype threat studies
Stiff, Lee1941–MathematicianPresident of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics from 2000 to 2002[138]
Snyder, Window1976–Computer engineerSecurity engineer at MicrosoftMozilla, and Apple
Temple, Lewis1800–1854Inventor, blacksmithabolitionistInventor of the toggling whaling harpoon head[139]
Thomas, Vivien1910–1985Surgical technicianBlue baby syndrome treatment in the 1940s[140][141][142]
Turner, Charles Henry1867–1923ZoologistFirst person to prove that insects can hear and can distinguish pitch, that cockroaches can learn by trial and error, and that honeybees can see color; first African-American to receive a PhD from the University of Chicago[143]
Tyree, G. Bernadette19xx–Biochemist[citation needed]Program Director, Division of Musculoskeletal Diseases, at National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health[144]
Tyson, Neil deGrasse1958–AstronomerResearcher and popular educator in astronomy and the sciences[145][146][147]
Vaughan, Dorothy1910–2008MathematicianWorked for NACA and NASA at Langley Research Center
Valerino, Powtawche1980EngineerWorked for JPL and NASA at Langley Research Center
Walker, Arthur B. C., Jr.1936–2001AstronomerDeveloped normal incidence multilayer XUV telescopes to photograph the solar corona[148][149][150]
Walker, C. J.1867–1919InventorCreated black cosmetic products[151]
Washington, Warren M.1936–Atmospheric scientistFormer chair of the National Science Board[152][153][154][155]
West, James E.1931–Acoustician, inventorCo-developed the foil electret microphone[156][157][158]
Wilkins, J. Ernest, Jr.1923–2011Mathematician, engineer, nuclear scientistEntered University of Chicago at age 13; PhD at 19; worked on the Manhattan Project; wrote over 100 scientific papers; helped recruit minorities into the sciences[159][160][161]
Williams, Daniel1856–1931SurgeonThe first black person on record to have successfully performed pericardium (the sac surrounding the heart) surgery to repair a wound.[162][circular reference]
Williams, Scott W.1943–Mathematician
Williams, Walter E.1936–Economist, social scientist[163][164][165]
Woods, Granville1856–1910InventorInvented the synchronous multiplex railway telegraph[166]
Wright, Jane C.1919–2013Cancer research and surgeonNoted for her contributions to chemotherapy and for pioneering the use of the drug methotrexate to treat breast cancer and skin cancer
Wright, Louis T.1891–1952SurgeonLed team that first used Aureomycin as a treatment on humans[167][168][169]
Young, Roger Arliner1899–1964ZoologistFirst African-American woman to receive a doctorate degree in zoology[170][171]
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