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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Celebrating the Inventions of Black Inventors

I just wanted to share something with all of you before I continue on with this blog post.

For the Wednesday blog entries that I have typed up this month (as part of the special “Black History Month” feature), I have been focusing a lot on the various inventions that people of colour have brought to the world. And, in doing my research for these entries, I have relied heavily on this website.

The Black Inventor Online Museum has proved to be a fantastic tool for my research, and I'll readily admit that by visiting this website, I learned so much about the various things that were invented by black people. In fact, there were some instances in which I learned things that I had never known before.

I'm showing you this link because it really is a well-designed site. And, it also looks as if it gets updated fairly regularly, as there are sections that are marked “NEW”. It's completely amazing to know just how these contributions have helped shape our world.

Unfortunately, the information for a few of these extraordinary inventors is not exactly chock-filled with pertinent facts. If anything, they're more or less one or two paragraph blurbs. And, that's a shame because I think that these inventors really need to get credited for their contributions to modern society.

So, for this week's edition of the blog, I thought that I would recognize these inventors in one super-post. I've randomly selected ten inventors from this website to feature. We'll talk about who they are, what they created, and how it has impacted our world. So, let's begin this salute to black inventors with...


Sarah Boone filed away for a patent for a little invention that she created that helped press clothes more efficiently. She was granted that patent on April 26, 1892. Now, I imagine that most of you believe that she invented the modern day iron, which assists in getting the wrinkles out of dress shirts and trousers, but this is not true. She did invent the predecessor modern day ironing board by using a wooden board with collapsible legs and a padded cover that was designed specifically for the fitted clothing that everyone wore back then. These days, thanks to wrinkle-resistant fabrics, irons and ironing boards aren't used as much these days (heck, even Monopoly opted to ditch the iron token in 2013 to bring in a kitty cat token). But, still, her invention certainly made looking good much easier.


Matthew Cherry was a key figure in helping two and three year olds get around using the power of wheels. Patented on May 8, 1888, Cherry invented something called a velocipede, which consisted of a metal frame with either two or three wheels attached to the bottom. By sitting on top of the seat of the velocipede, they could move forward at varying speeds by moving their feet along the ground in a fast walking or running motion.

Of course, nowadays, we refer to these devices as tricycles.

And, that's not the only innovation that Cherry came up with either. Cherry also patented a fender for streetcars on New Years Day, 1895, which prevented the car from getting damaged if it collided with another object while traveling. Over the years, Cherry's fender technology was implemented on other modes of transportation.


Here we have our first Canadian on the list. Joseph Dickinson was born in 1855 (the 1955 date they have listed in the bio was obviously a typo...unless he met Doc Brown and Marty McFly in his travels.

You might be surprised to learn that Dickinson's contribution in the world of black history is linked to music...but he never sang or played a musical instrument. He built them instead.

It was Dickinson who patented the the reed organ, and together with his father-in-law formed the Dickinson-Gould Organ Company after he married Eva Gould in 1884. Prior to the founding of the company, Dickinson won a prize for an organ he designed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania, and was once hired to build an organ for the Royal Family of Portugal!


James Forten helped out in the fight to give African-Americans their freedom while simultaneously building a fortune for himself by building a better sailing mechanism.

First, let's talk about his invention. When Forten was younger, his father was killed in a boating accident, and whether this fueled his desire to find a way to make boating easier, I cannot say. What I do know is that Forten did some experiments with various sails of different sizes and textures, trying to find a way to make sailing more efficient. He did not come up with the patent for the sail, but he managed to find a way to create a sail that was better for maneuvering the ship, and being able to maintain greater speed.

What was really cool was how Forten spent his fortune made from the discovery. He purchased slaves so he could set them free, he started up a school for black children, used his home as a refuge spot for people traveling through the Underground Railroad to secure their freedom, and he financed and contributed to William Garrison's newspaper, “The Libertarian”. What an amazing guy!


Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Arnold Palmer, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh, and Mike Weir all owe a debt of gratitude to Grant, whose invention helped make the sport of golf much easier to play.

December 12, 1899 marked the date that Grant patented the modern day golf tee – a device he made in frustration over the wind blowing the golf ball in all directions while playing the game. The first golf tee was made of wood, with a concave piece of rubber to keep the ball in place (keeping in mind that golf balls in the turn of the 20th century were made of rubber). This innovation allowed golfers to make longer drives, and allowed the golfer more control over where to hit the ball.


Sarah Goode made history when she received her patent for the folding cabinet bed...she was the very first African-American woman to receive such a patent in history.

She invented the folding cabinet bed as an ingenious method for conserving space inside cramped living quarters. She designed it in such a way that when folded, the bed would resemble a cabinet or a desk, complete with compartments for pens and stationery. And, speaking of pens...


William Purvis was annoyed with having to carry around a bottle of ink at all times to fill out legal papers or sign contracts. I can't say that I blamed him one bit...if that ink ever spilled inside your pocket, it would be near impossible to get those stains out.

So, in early 1890, Purvis received a patent for a pen that one could simply fill up with ink every so often, eliminating the need to have ink on your person at all times. Purvis had invented the very first fountain pen, and since then has made writing a whole lot easier. And although there are ball-point, gel, and Sharpies out on the market today, none of those would have been made possible without the innovation that Purvis brought to the table.

But the fountain pen wasn't Purvis' only invention. It's reported that he also inspired the creation of the stamp pad, bag fastener, electric railway device, and electric railway switch! Purvis was one busy beaver!


Cleaning has never been made easier thanks to Ray's invention. Prior to issuing a patent for his dustpan invention, people had to resort to using other methods to sweep floors and hallways clean. They swept the dirt outside of the door, or they would use a piece of paper to pick up the dirt. Sometimes, they would just pick it up by hand, which was quite a messy experience.

But on August 3, 1897, Ray's patent was granted, and the first dustpan was manufactured by attaching a metal collection plate to a wooden handle.


And, since we're talking about household items designed to keep your home and workplace neat and tidy, we may as well thank Thomas Stewart for his invention, which helped save the backs of millions of people. Prior to his patent being passed, the only way to scrub a messy floor was to get on your hands and knees and scrub away at the stains by hand. Stewart thought that this method was ridiculous, and sought to find a way to make the job easier. So, he attached a cloth to a stick handle and held it in place with a metal clasp, and made the job less physically demanding. This invention was the precursor to the modern day mop.


You know those pencil sharpeners that are built into the walls of almost every elementary school classroom? The ones in which you turned a crank and it sharpened your pencil? Well, those sharpeners wouldn't have been created without John Love. He was tired of having to whittle away the end of a pencil with a knife in order to finish writing a letter to someone. So, in November 1897, he patented his crank design pencil sharpener. While the invention of mechanical pencils ceased the need to use a pencil sharpener somewhat, pencil sharpeners are still in use today. You have to have something to use to sharpen your coloured pencils, don't you?

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