Since Judy Reed, inventor of the improved dough kneader and roller, and Sarah E. Goode, inventor of the hide-away bed, secured patents in 1884 and 1885 respectively, the technological advancements of Black women have been recognized in the United States.
These are five Black female inventors who carried the torch lit by Goode and Reed, and patented their legacy.
Harlem-born Doctor and Howard University Alum Patricia Bath patented the Laserphaco Probe, a surgical device used to remove cataracts, in 1988. Bath’s groundbreaking technique was a significant improvement, in both speed and accuracy, over the much more invasive standard cataract surgery of the time.
Bath’s work at Harlem Hospital and Columbia University led her to discover and then document the disproportionately high rates of blindness among Black patients, due to inadequate access to quality eye care.
In addition to her achievement as the first Black female doctor to secure a medical patent, Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in 1976. The non-profit aims to “protect, preserve, and restore the gift of sight,” according to the organization’s website.
Madam C.J. Walker
Louisiana-native Madam C.J. Walker turned one dollar and 25 cents into a hair product empire, with the creation of “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.”
Struggling with hair loss herself, Walker became a sales agent for Annie Turnbo Malone, Black businesswoman and inventor of “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower,” in 1904.
By launching her own manufacturing company and creating training programs for aspiring sales agents, Walker employed 40,000 Black Americans and accrued over a million dollars—most of which she donated upon her passing.
Marie Van Brittan Brown
Nurse Marie Van Brittan Brown pioneered the home security system, with the help of her husband Albert Brown, as a way of protecting her home from break-ins.
For their achievement in the invention of the closed-circuit television security system, or CCTV, the Browns were recognized by the National Scientists Committee. With 30 direct citations to her work in patent applications, Brown’s invention serves a crucial role in home security to this day.
Alice H. Parker
Howard University Alum Alice Parker revolutionized home heating when she created the gas furnace while working from home in Morristown, New Jersey.
Her invention, which she patented in 1919, became the foundation for the thermostat and modern-day heating systems.
Valerie L. Thomas
Scientist Valerie Thomas served as the associate chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office and project manager of Space Physics Analysis Network during her three-decade career at NASA.
Her invention, the illusion transmitter is still used by NASA today. The transmitter “uses a concave mirror on the transmitting end as well as on the receiving end to produce optical illusion images,” according to Lemelson-MIT Program.
Thomas often visited schools and universities to give talks and encourage Black women and men to pursue careers in science and engineering.