Inventor and Entrepreneur Thomas L. Jennings became the first Black American to secure a patent in 1821 for his innovative dry-cleaning technique, dubbed “dry scouring.” With the profits from his lucrative invention, Jennings freed family members from enslavement and furthered the movement for abolition.
These are five Black male inventors who followed the path blazed by Jennings and patented their legacy.
Kentucky-born Garrett Morgan created an improved traffic signal and patented a gas mask design that was the basis for the masks used by the United States Army throughout World War I.
Morgan moved to Ohio in his teens where he repaired sewing machines. Morgan eventually launched his own company for sewing machine repairs. His financial prowess bloomed as he developed businesses in tailoring, personal grooming and journalism.
Morgan created the machinery used in his tailoring business and soon branched out into other types of inventions. He created the predecessor of the modern three-way traffic signal after spotting a car accident and sold the patent to General Electric Corporation.
Lewis Howard Latimer:
Inventor and Draftsman Lewis Howard Latimer wrote the blueprints and submitted the patent application that secured Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone as the design that went down in history.
In addition to his work with Bell, Latimer was a charter member of the elite organization Edison Pioneers and patented the carbon filament, which improved the production of light bulbs.
NASA Engineer and Businessman Lonnie Johnson created the Super Soaker water gun, which went on to generate over a billion dollars in profit. Johnson created the water gun while working in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he also designed an invention that powered the Galileo spacecraft.
“I was having trouble getting people to understand the hard science inventions I had like a heat pump or the digital measuring instrument,” said Johnson in an interview with Susan Adams in Forbes magazine. “I thought the toy was something anyone could look at and appreciate.”
Frederick McKinley Jones:
With over 60 patents to his name, Co-founder of Thermo King Frederick McKinley Jones was an incredibly prolific inventor.
The World War I veteran made many inventions still relevant today, including air conditioning for vehicles to safely store food, the process that allows cinema projectors to play sound, a portable X-ray device and a refrigerated storage unit used by the military.
Minnesota-born Inventor Alexander Miles patented an improved elevator design. With Miles’ invention, elevator doors opened and closed automatically, eliminating the dangers of manual door operation.