Black Inventor’s Road to Patents Paved With Barriers
Historically, the patent system was not accessible to large groups of the African American population. The effects of this closure are still felt today for some. In 1857, the Dred Scott decision declared that African Americans were not U.S. citizens and therefore, were not eligible for patents. Inventor Shontavia Johnson, an attorney and associate vice president of innovation at Clemson University, was an example of an individual who was able to overcome the barriers that were in his way.
Before the Civil War, most African Americans were enslaved and their inventions remained in the hands of their masters. However, Thomas Jennings, a free black man born in New York, managed to become the first African American to secure a patent, for his dry-scouring process. His inventions continue to impact our lives today.
After his first patent, Thomas Jennings used the proceeds to fight slavery. His patent money paid for his wife Elizabeth’s freedom and that of his children. Jennings was also active in the abolitionist movement, founding the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and becoming the assistant secretary of the First Annual Convention of People of Color in Philadelphia in 1831. Jennings’ children also went on to receive education and become active in the abolitionist movement.
Between 1870 and 1940, African Americans were less involved in the patent system. They made innovations that did not fit traditional ideas of inventiveness. These innovations were often not patented, leaving them unable to receive the recognition they deserved. For example, the New York DJ Grandmaster Flash invented the use of record turntables as instruments, manipulating sounds using his fingers. In addition, he helped pioneer deejaying, which is the art of performing music.
While these barriers were a hindrance to Morgan’s success, he nonetheless went on to patent a series of innovative products. His patented innovations included a hair straightening solution, a firefighter’s gas mask, and an improved traffic signal. In 1888, Garrett Morgan attempted to pass himself off as a Native American but was eventually discovered to be African American.
Granville T. Woods
Granville T. Woods’ brilliance is celebrated in books and films. His original patent document for an underground electrical railway line recently sold for $3,500 at Sotheby’s. Inventors like Woods were important to the development of modern communications and are celebrated throughout history. Woods’s work paved the way for the Internet.
Despite the many hurdles that he faced, he managed to achieve great success by inventing several technological advances. His first patent, for example, paved the way for the multiplex telegraph, which helped moving trains communicate with each other. Thomas Edison contested Woods’ patent and sought a partnership. Despite Edison’s persistent pursuit of him, Woods rejected the lucrative offer.
At age 10, Woods began learning trades. He worked at a rolling mill in Springfield, Illinois, and for the Danville and Southern Railroad in Missouri. While working at these jobs, he also learned about electricity and chemistry. Many biographical sketches state that Woods attended an electrical engineering and mechanical engineering school in the eastern United States. However, his education was not completed there, and he continued to work in the field.
Despite the obstacles he encountered, Woods continued to innovate and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. The book also explores the role of African American inventors in American history. It introduces some of the most celebrated Black inventors in history and inspires young makers to develop their own inventions. This book is a great resource for educators to help students explore the rich history of this country’s pioneering black inventors.
A report by the patent office reveals that Black people did not get the same benefits as their white counterparts. The number of patents awarded to Blacks is much lower than that of whites. Furthermore, black inventors still did not have equal access to the patents process. As a result, it was nearly impossible for them to obtain patents for their inventions.
Mary Invented a carrying pouch for Mildred’s walker
In 1889, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was born in Monroe, North Carolina. She went on to earn five patents and faced racism her entire life. Among other inventions, she invented a sanitary belt, a pocket that connects to a walker, and a toilet paper holder. Today, these inventions help people with disabilities get around their homes more conveniently and comfortably.
Walker was a medical director for women prisoners in Kentucky, and she fought for women’s rights. She worked as a doctor and advocated for better clothing for women. She wore a “Bloomer costume,” which was a dress and trouser combination. During this time, she also created the first universally-sized sanitary pad. After the invention was patented, she continued to develop household items that could help women who had difficulty walking.
Percy Lavon Julian
The title of Percy Lavon Julian’s book is apt. The brilliant scientist struggled to find his place in a largely white profession and community. He found freedom in the laboratory. While Percy died of liver cancer in 1975, his work helped advance the field of medicine. Percy Lavon Julian, a chemist born in Alabama, was once denied promotion to a professorship by his high school. But this didn’t stop him. His hard work and dedication led him to become one of the most respected scientists of his generation.
As a child, Julian dreamed of test tubes. As a college student, he attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, a historically black college. The school was racially segregated, and Julian was not allowed to live on campus in the dormitories. Instead, he had to live in a boarding house off campus. His roommates and professors refused to serve him meals, and he had to work odd jobs at a fraternity house. Eventually, however, he went on to earn a Phi Beta Kappa degree and become a successful businessman.
The biopic of Percy Lavon Julian began filming in May 2002 at DePauw University in Greencastle. The film has also featured the life of the scientist and his family. The university’s archives contain family papers and the biopic is based on his life. The biography was delayed by Nova Television because of concerns over Julian’s race. He died in 1975 at age 76, but his research continues to benefit millions of people around the world.
In 1932, Julian took a position at DePauw University. After he returned to the United States, he helped Josef Pikl to come to the United States. They completed the synthesis of physostigmine, a substance that helps fight cancer and other ailments. Percy Julian was also a prominent civil rights activist, raising money for racial justice and speaking out in public about full equality for all Americans. Julian was also instrumental in training promising young African Americans to become chemists.
When she was growing up, Patricia Era Bath was inspired to pursue a career in medicine, particularly ophthalmology. Her parents, Rupert and Gladys Bath, were active in the community and encouraged their daughter to pursue her interests in science and education. Bath later won a National Science Foundation scholarship and pursued research at the Harlem Hospital Center. She later received a PhD in ophthalmology from Columbia University.
As an ophthalmologist and the first African-American to earn a patent, Bath’s achievement is particularly remarkable. As a resident in ophthalmology, she discovered that black patients suffered disproportionately from glaucoma. Her innovative work allowed her to develop the Laserphaco Probe, a surgical instrument that removes cataracts. She was also the first African-American to complete a residency program in ophthalmology.
In addition to her ophthalmology practice, Bath helped pioneer community ophthalmology, a field devoted to treating people with preventable blindness. She also worked with patients in Pakistan and Nigeria. In the 1980s, she joined a research study focused on the use of lasers in ophthalmology. Bath’s Cataract Laserphaco Probe, which uses a laser to dissolve cataracts, restored sight to patients.
In her later years, Bath continued her research on the causes and treatment of blindness. She established the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, helped create a new discipline called community ophthalmology, and invented the Laserphaco Probe, a laser-based device that improves cataract surgery. Bath was the first African-American woman to complete medical school and completed residency training at NYU in 1970. She then went on to become a faculty member at UCLA Medical Center, where she became the first black female surgeon.
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