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Top 10 African American Inventors

Despite the hardships suffered through slavery, many African Americans have managed to become great inventors, scientists, and thinkers. This is a list of the ten greatest African American inventors.

10. Madame C J Walker 1867 – 1919

Walk-Mad2

Invented: Hair Lotion for black women

Sarah Breedlove, who later became known as Madam C. J. Walker, was born into a former-slave family to parents Owen and Minerva Breedlove. Madam Walker was an entrepreneur who built her empire developing hair products for black women. She claims to have built her company on an actual dream where a large black man appeared to her and gave her a formula for curing baldness. When confronted with the idea that she was trying to conform black women’s hair to that of whites, she stressed that her products were simply an attempt to help black women take proper care of their hair and promote its growth. She was the first African-American woman millionaire.

9. Frederick McKinley Jones 1893 – 1961

Jones Portrait

Invented: Refrigeration systems

Frederick McKinley Jones was one of the most prolific Black inventors ever. Frederick Jones patented more than sixty inventions, however, he is best known for inventing an automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks in 1935 (a roof-mounted cooling device). Jones was the first person to invent a practical, mechanical refrigeration system for trucks and railroad cars, which eliminated the risk of food spoilage during long-distance shipping trips. The system was, in turn, adapted to a variety of other common carriers, including ships. Frederick Jones was issued the patent on July 12, 1940.


8. Jan Ernst Matzeliger 1852 – 1889

Image-16

Invented: Shoe lasting machinery

Jan Matzeliger was born in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana in 1852. He was a shoemaker by trade, the son of an African homemaker and a Dutch engineer, in whose machine shop Jan Matzeliger began working at the age of ten. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 18. Jan Matzeliger helped revolutionize the shoe industry by developing a shoe lasting machine that would attach the sole to the shoe in one minute. The shoe lasting machine adjusts the shoe leather upper snugly over the mold, arranges the leather under the sole and pins it in place with nails while the sole is stitched to the leather upper.

7. Norbert Rillieux 1806 – 1894

Norbertrillieux

Invented: Sugar refining machinery

Norbert Rillieux was born on March 17, 1806 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Norbert was born a free man, although his mother was a slave. His father was a wealthy White engineer involved in the cotton industry. Rillieux patented the multiple-effect vacuum pan evaporator. This device heated sugar cane juice in a partial vacuum, reducing its boiling point, allowing much greater fuel efficiency. This innovation, adopted in sugar refining, escalated production, reduced the price, and was responsible for transforming sugar into a household item. Similar technology was subsequently developed for the production of soap, gelatin, and glue. Some have called Rillieux’s evaporator the greatest invention in the history of American chemical engineering.


6. George Edward Alcorn 1940

Nasaga

Invented: Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer

Physicist George Edward Alcorn, Jr. is best known for his development of the imaging x-ray spectrometer. An x-ray spectrometer assists scientists in identifying a material by producing an x-ray spectrum of it, allowing it to be examined visually. This is especially advantageous when the material is not able to be broken down physically. Alcorn patented his “method for fabricating an imaging x-ray spectrometer” in 1984. He was cited for his method’s innovative use of the thermomigration of aluminum. For this achievement he was recognized with the NASA/GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Center) Inventor of the Year Award.

5. Lewis Latimer 1848 – 1928

Richi558

Invented: Long life lightbulb

Lewis Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1848. He was the son of George and Rebecca Latimer, escaped slaves from Virginia. Latimer was hired as the assistant manager and draftsman for U.S. Electric Lighting Company owned by Hiram Maxim. Maxim was the chief rival to Thomas Edison. Maxim greatly desired to improve on Edison’s light bulb and focused on the main weakness of Edison’s bulb – their short life span (generally only a few days.) Latimer set out to make a longer lasting bulb. Latimer devised a way of encasing the filament within an cardboard envelope which prevented the carbon from breaking and thereby provided a much longer life to the bulb and hence made the bulbs less expensive and more efficient. This enabled electric lighting to be installed within homes and throughout streets.


4. Granville Woods 1856 – 1910

Gwoods

Invented: A variation on the induction telegraph

The magnitude of an inventors work can often be defined by the esteem in which he is held by fellow inventors. If this is the case, then Granville Woods was certainly a respected inventor as he was often referred to as the “Black Thomas Edison.” In 1885, Woods patented an apparatus which was a combination of a telephone and a telegraph. The device, which he called “telegraphony,” would allow a telegraph station to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire. The device was so successful that he later sold it to the American Bell Telephone Company. In 1887, Woods developed his most important invention to date – a device he called Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph. A variation of the “induction telegraph,” it allowed for messages to be sent from moving trains and railway stations. By allowing dispatchers to know the location of each train, it provided for greater safety and a decrease in railway accidents. Over the course of his life time Granville Woods would obtain more than 50 patents for inventions including an automatic brake and an egg incubator and for improvements to other inventions such as safety circuits, telegraph, telephone, and phonograph.

3. Patricia Bath 1942

Bathpatricia Big

Invented: A form of eye surgery using lasers

Dr. Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist from New York, but living in Los Angeles when she received her patent, became the first African American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention. Patricia Bath’s patent (no. 4,744,360), a method for removing cataract lenses, transformed eye surgery, using a laser device making the procedure more accurate (Cataract Laserphaco Probe). The probe, patented in 1988, is designed to use the power of a laser to quickly and painlessly vaporize cataracts from patients’ eyes, replacing the more common method of using a grinding, drill-like device to remove the afflictions. With another invention, Bath was able to restore sight to people who had been blind for over 30 years.


2. Garrett Morgan 1877 – 1963

Morgan

Invented: Gas mask, and a type of traffic light

Garrett Morgan was an inventor and businessman from Cleveland who invented a device called the Morgan safety hood and smoke protector in 1914. On July 25, 1916, Garrett Morgan made national news for using his gas mask to rescue 32 men trapped during an explosion in an underground tunnel 250 feet beneath Lake Erie. Morgan and a team of volunteers donned the new “gas masks” and went to the rescue. After the rescue, Morgan’s company received requests from fire departments around the country who wished to purchase the new masks. The Morgan gas mask was later refined for use by U.S. Army during World War I. In 1914, Garrett Morgan was awarded a patent for a Safety Hood and Smoke Protector. After witnessing a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage, Garrett Morgan took his turn at inventing a traffic signal. Other inventors had experimented with, marketed, and even patented traffic signals, however, Garrett Morgan was one of the first to apply for and acquire a U.S. patent for an inexpensive to produce traffic signal.

1. Otis Boykin 1920 – 1982

Boykinport

Invented: Improved electrical resistor, and a control unit for pacemakers

Boykin, in his lifetime, ultimately invented more than 25 electronic devices. One of his early inventions was an improved electrical resistor for computers, radios, televisions and an assortment of other electronic devices. Other notable inventions include a variable resistor used in guided missiles and small component thick-film resistors for computers. Boykin’s most famous invention was probably a control unit for the pacemaker. The device, essentially, uses electrical impulses to maintain a regular heartbeat. Ironically, Boykin died of heart failure in 1982.

Notable Omissions: Benjamin Bradley, George Washington Carver

Listverse Staff

Listverse is a place for explorers. Together we seek out the most fascinating and rare gems of human knowledge. Three or more fact-packed lists daily.

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  • Brian: I left him on intentionally – he did a lot of great stuff with food inventions – I forgot to include him as a notable omission – I will update it :)

    mix2323: He actually didn't invent peanut butter – according to Wikipedia:

    In 1890, George A. Bayle Jr. began to sell ground peanut paste as a vegetarian protein supplement for people with bad teeth. In 1893, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg originated an early variety of peanut butter at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. Kellogg, along with his brother, W.K. Kellogg, patented a process for making peanut butter in 1895, but it used steamed peanuts rather than roasted peanuts. Contrary to popular belief, the renowned botanist George Washington Carver had no hand in inventing this food.

    • lorain

      fyi, after coming across your comments, it's important to mention that Wikipedia is not a reliable source for ANY information. it has been cited for a number of inaccurate postings..Perhaps a call or trip down to Tuskegee will help you understand George Washington Carver's contributions. There are people working there (elderly now) who actually worked with Carver. They can confirm this information. There is a lot of information in our school's history books that promote white american's and with the exception of a few "notable" mentions, African Americans have been left out of the history books. Please understand that at the time many of these books were printed, there was little, if any interest in shedding a positive light on African americans, thereby leaving many to dig and search just to maintain this groups legacy and important contributions.
      pj

      • Caren

        There is NO arguing with the fact the George W. Carver was an invaluable scientist and innovator, and he should appear on any list of great American inventors, but he did not invent peanut butter. He certainly revolutionized and promoted its use, but peanut butter, in its crude form, is as old as the Aztecs. Professor Carver was a man of outstanding intelligence, diligence, and generosity. His is an example all Americans would all do well to emulate.

  • Very interesting list. I never knew about some of these inventors. I thought of George Washington Carver too. Imagine the extra obstacles many of these inventors had to face due to prejudice & Jim Crow laws etc.

    I was just thinking I hope we are close to the day where we call African American Inventors just inventors “period” and the color of their skin would be an afterthought.

    • lex_dimond

      Agreed!

  • Brian Moo

    First person who popped into my mind was George Washington Carver, and to my surprise he isn’t in the list!

    I know he invented some things…. I’ll have to research him a bit.

  • mix2323

    peanut butter and A/C

  • dalandzadgad

    a suggestion: it’d be helpful to have the invention(s) listed as a subtitle for each person.

  • dalandzadgad: Done :)

  • David

    George Washington Carver invented the peanut, and then a bunch of stuff that runs on peanuts.

    • shea

      hi

  • Pete

    Where is George Washington Carver?

  • StewWriter

    I had heard of this fellow as well when I was reading into Army Surplus Equipment a while back. I’d say he was pretty well known:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garrett_Morgan

  • Pete: What was his invention?

  • schadenfreude

    I was thinking about Dr. Charles Drew – the man who invented the system for preserving plasma for blood transfusions.
    Thoughts?

  • Blogball: I agree completely

    shadenfreude: I agree he is worth mentioning, though I wonder if Dr Drew is more of an innovator than an inventor.

  • Sarah

    I was also thinking of Dr. Charles Drew. I believe he is an inventor and an innovator. I also believe it is worth mentioning how he died. After a car accident he layed bleeding to death outside a white’s only hospital. He needed a blood transfusion.

  • Sarah: that is terrible! Also interesting is that Otis Boykin died of a heart attack despite the fact that he made such a major contribution to the pacemaker.

  • George Washington Carver only had 3 or 4 patents issued as I recall, not for anything you would have used or even heard of probably. He was an astoundingly talented innovator and agricultural scientist, but not really an ‘inventor’ in the traditional sense.

    But the one thing he’s never gotten enough credit for, as far as I’m concerned, is bio-diesel. Derived from, you guessed it, peanuts. At the time it was too expensive for practical use. Now? Maybe not so much.

  • kunleski

    there is a typo in d 4th, i’m sure u mean 1887, since d guy died in 1910, great list, i love it.

  • Chris

    Another great list. Nice work.

  • Kunleski: oops – thank you – it is now fixed.

  • Chris: Thanks :)

  • Oh – StewWriter: Garrett Morgan is number 2 on the list :)

  • I always learned that George Washington Carver did lots of stuff with peanuts! I don’t remember what exactaly, but as you can see, we have all had it ingrained in us that he did. =p Definately a notable omission, or at least worth mentioning and/or correcting this train of thought.

  • alex

    i cannot help but think number one looks asian

    • meow

      my thoughts exactly

  • sue

    loving this list

  • Anyssa

    this website rockz your sockz
    :)

  • dave4248

    Charles Drew s/be on this list. He was the first to categorize blood types, thus making transfusions possible. The story about his death is false however. He didn’t die because he was refused admittance to a white hospital. His own daughter has been denying that happened, ever since his death. Some PC writer obviously thought it sounded dramatic to say he died that way.

  • Kimberly

    These are some really amazing people my great uncle Jesse H. Turner made lots of contributions too. He was a great man I was told but I never him, but I read his book ” Except by Grace” it’s great book and it tells about alot of people that helped out with segragation times. It’s also tells about his life and what he did to help out with segragation,rascim, and predjudice.He did alot.Youcan find his book at http://www.google.com

  • evafunke

    how come thomas edison does not belong in this list!!!!

  • BRITTANY

    I really like these pictures and what they did 4 all of us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • deangelo

    theese pic are desent

  • katipooh77

    I think it is important for the African American inventors to be known as just that; African American. I believe this because not only were They forgotten, but they were not given the credit they so deserved. For so long Blacks have been stero typed as lazy, uneducated, and good for nothing, etc. Of course I am a proud African American myself.

  • Merlin

    For the record, peanut butter is a recipe, not an invention.

    • shayla solomon

      i dont care wat u have to say to me! haha! lol

  • A.M.H

    I was watching television when a Black History commercial was broadcasted about Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), an African American inventor. The commercial talked about Banneker constructing a working wood clock. After seeing the commercial I went online and researched Banneker. I learned that at age 22 he constructed a clock made entirely of wood, with each gear carved entirely by hand. I also learned that he was a farmer, self-taught mathematician and astronomer. I further learned that he was born in Maryland and spent most of his life on a tobacco farm he inherited from his father. I can’t understand why African American History is not taught in grade school giving everyone the opportunity to know that African American were not only slaves but were also intelligence and took an activate part in helping develop America. I feel like the educational system, newspapers and television only recognize the contributions of African American during Black History Month. I hope and pray that this will change now that Brack Hussein Obama is the first African American to be elected president of the United States.

  • Merlin

    A.M.H. – He constructed a wood clock, not the first one, so he wouldn’t be on this list. Abel Cottey, a Quaker clockmaker from Philadelphia, built a clock that is dated 1709 (source: Six Quaker Clockmakers, by Edward C. Chandlee; Philadelphia, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1943). Several watch and clockmakers were already established in Maryland prior to the time that Banneker made his clock. More here: http://www33.brinkster.com/iiiii/inventions/#clock

    Stop trying to glorify things that were already done. Blacks did contribute to America, but misleading and untrue topics should not be covered in school.

  • Bert

    What? No George Foreman? The world would not be the same without his Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine!

  • linda

    I absolutely hate when people comment on george washington carver inventing stuff with peanuts when there are so many other wonderful inventors that did way more helpful things. it seems to me that he happens to be the only black inventor that most white people know so the only suggestion they can make about the list is adding him

  • Bert (35) – You legend!

  • STP

    You need to get your facts straight.

    http://www33.brinkster.com/iiiii/inventions/#top

    • BHM buff

      Your link is an unreliable html source with no substantiating references. Unfortunately, because of the internet anyone can post a webpage and claim it valid with biased opinion. This link is just that. The author spends a lot of time discrediting history from their point of view.

  • nicoleredz3

    I’m so proud of these ppl… Another quality list found on Listverse.com… :-)

  • lalalalalalalal

    y iz martin luther king or obama in tha top 10????????

  • Jasmine Ellis

    idk why everyone is so hiped about BHM. Whites are goin to treat us the same as everyday. Even worse because we have a month for us. Its a conspiracy

    • Billy Hill

      And you treat whites so good yourself. Usually in this world, you get what you give. If you give off the air that when your around whites you expect to be treated differently, than you will. If you assimilate with the world, become just another “American” and quit all the TNB I am positive no one will treat you any different than anybody else.
      It’s all the lower test scores, handouts, affirmative action, and all the other BS that blacks need which causes all the racism. If the scores are lowered so that blacks can become police officers, then I do not feel I am as safe as I would be if ALL had to score the same.
      There are many, MANY other examples where being black benefits them greatly, but whites are not afforded the same treatment.

  • Dan

    black history month shouldnt exist. blacks should be acknowledged for their accomplishments amongst others in history books, not in separate categories. It’s just my opinion though.

    • i def do not agree with your opinion

  • paul

    why the need to seperate African American inventors from European American inventors? All great contributions to help us live the lavish lives we do today.

  • Elijah McCoy

    Elijah McCoy (1843–1929) invented an oil-dripping cup for trains.

    Fast Fact: Other inventors tried to copy McCoy's oil-dripping cup. But none of the other cups worked as well as his, so customers started asking for "the real McCoy." That's where the expression comes from.

  • ALSO ALL STONERS TAKE NOTE:

    George Crum
    Inventor of Potato Chips

    Every time a person crunches into a potato chip, he or she is enjoying the delicious taste of one of the world's most famous snacks – a treat that might not exist without the contribution of black inventor George Crum.

    • Billy Hill

      Indians were eating fried potato chips before the jewish owned boats brought all the slaves to America.

  • ALSO ALL NERDS:

    Dr. Mark Dean
    Computer Inventions

    Dr. Mark Dean started working at IBM in 1980 and was instrumental in the invention of the Personal Computer (PC). He holds three of IBM's original nine PC patents and currently holds more than 20 total patents. One of his most recent computer inventions occurred while leading the team that produced the 1-Gigahertz chip, which contains one million transistors and has nearly limitless potential.

  • Dr. Charles Drew
    Blood Bank Inventor

    Kenneth J. Dunkley
    3-D Viewing Glasses and Holography

    Also that dude who invented lingo – the reason why we can use jpeg and other visual file formats

  • Tom

    What happened to George Washington Carver? Patent Law Arizona

  • solo

    how come the inventors with both white and black parents are automatically classified as black just because they have black blood, or are they too tainted to be white also? afterall its 50/50 from both black and white parents, just a thought for everyone to consider.

  • bassanio

    blowjobbing list move on…

  • lilman23

    got an A form this

  • shayla solomon

    ahh wat up wit all of yall! hope you enjoy your weekend out deraa

  • Aleah

    Wat is this its more at and other website

  • moesha davy

    this is so helpful and if you dont agree with me thats your loss

  • michelle lee

    Those of you who are saying black people didnt invent anything or contribute to this world, you are IGNORANT. Dont be upset because blacks are intelligent and white people just take everyone else’s ideas! haha You use black inventions in your life everyday. i.e the traffic light,gas mask, soles of your shoe. So build a bridge and get over it you racist dick!!

  • MMAKOBEDI CHOABI

    It gives me joy to see that our black fathers and mothers were not useless being as they were thought to be!

  • Crispy

    Niggers invented sitting on there ass all day waiting for handouts.

  • spike

    I suggest all do a search, ” black inventions myths”. The truth will make you free.

  • Scott H.

    This list was compiled in 2007 and it looks more like a celebration of mediocrity.
    Hair lotion? REALLY? And why is this list made for “African American” inventors?
    Society has done SO much more than this as a whole and to single out a group by race….. well…. is racist isn’t it?

  • Alucard

    Someone forgot to mention the dung hut and the ability to never creating a true civilization thus saving the environment from green houses gasses (excluding jenkem).

  • Bill

    Frederick Jones (with Joseph Numero) in 1938? Nope. Did Jones change America’s eating habits by making possible the long-distance shipment of perishable foods? Nope.

    Refrigerated ships and railcars had been moving perishables across oceans and continents even before Jones was born. Trucks with mechanically refrigerated cargo spaces appeared on the roads at least as early as the late 1920s. Further development of truck refrigeration was more a process of gradual evolution than radical change.

  • Bill

    Blood Bank
    Dr. Charles Drew in 1940? Nope.
    During World War I, Dr. Oswald H. Robertson of the US army preserved blood in a citrate-glucose solution and stored it in cooled containers for later transfusion. This was the first use of “banked” blood. By the mid-1930s the Russians had set up a national network of facilities for the collection, typing, and storage of blood. Bernard Fantus, influenced by the Russian program, established the first hospital blood bank in the United States at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital in 1937. It was Fantus who coined the term “blood bank.”

    [return to top]
    Blood Plasma
    Did Charles Drew “discover” (in about 1940) that plasma could be separated and stored apart from the rest of the blood, thereby revolutionizing transfusion medicine? Nope.
    The possibility of using blood plasma for transfusion purposes was known at least since 1918, when English physician Gordon R. Ward suggested it in a medical journal. In the mid-1930s, John Elliott advanced the idea, emphasizing plasma’s advantages in shelf life and donor-recipient compatibility, and in 1939 he and two colleagues reported having used stored plasma in 191 transfusions. Charles Drew was not responsible for any breakthrough scientific or medical discovery; his main career achievement lay in supervising or co-supervising major programs for the collection and shipment of blood and plasma

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  • EngakBlak

    Name

  • jay r agustin

    i lhub it!

  • NameKyle

    Peanut butter is a recipe not an invention!

  • 21stcenturythinker

    Some people have a really hard time accepting the fact that black people actually do think and work hard and are smart… i dot understand what is so difficult…this is the 21st century people we should know better then this…

  • Hu99

    Who cares? What the hell did these niggers invent? A method for frying chicken, or a way to preserve watermelon rinds ‘n’ shit?

  • roger

    No one mentioned that Aunt Jemima invented pancake syrup.

  • Brent Liu

    MY INVENTER IS TOP1 AFRICAN AMERIAN INVENTER

  • healy

    it realy helpe me

  • Jeff Hall

    I did a report on George Washington Carver during Black History month in elementary school (about 35 years ago). He was my hero as he invented peanut butter!!

  • shakierra

    im doing a asiment on nafrican ameran inventors

  • Barbara Holloman

    Your web site was very instrumental in helping me to perpare my News Crew students in honoring inventors for Black History Month. Thank you very much.

  • tra bag

    If the people mentioned where left in the mother land with out intergration into the european culture..would they have the knowledge to still be inventors?

  • Okechukwu Mokaogwu

    We are proud that our fore-fathers and mothers were also listed among great men and women in the world. The labour of our heros past shall never be in vain. Proudly African.

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  • petet2112

    Lloyd Albert Quaterman (1918-1982) Worked with Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi to invent the Atomic Bomb.

  • smoker cooking

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  • jasmine canal

    kool :]

  • Esau chimbuya

    Out of His love God gave us different capabilities for our own good

  • Paul

    Good list, but I don’t think you are right about Garret Morgan and the traffic signal. There were lots of patents for traffic signals before his, several of which were at least as cheap to make, and the modern traffic signal evolved from Potts’ 1920 invention…

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