In commemoration of this year’s Black History Month, we bring you a collection of some iconic inventions by Blacks. Most people have heard about famous inventions like the light bulb, the cotton gin and the iPhone. But there are countless others, often overlooked inventions that make our daily lives easier. Remarkably, some of these devices sprung from the minds of Black inventors. Let’s take a look at some of them:
First home security system – Marie Van Brittan Brown
Although she was a full-time Black nurse, she recognized the security threats to her home and devised a system that would alert her of strangers at her door and contact relevant authorities as quickly as possible. Her original invention consisted of peepholes, a camera, monitors, and a two-way microphone. The finishing touch was an alarm button that, when pressed, would immediately contact the police. It is on record that her patent laid the groundwork for the modern closed-circuit television system that is widely used for surveillance, home security systems, push-button alarm triggers, crime prevention, and traffic monitoring.
Kar-go – William Pasi Sachiti
Born in Harare, Zimbabwe, Sachiti moved to the UK when he was 16 years old. In 2015 he went to University in Aberystwyth to study artificial intelligence and robotics.
In 2016, after receiving funding from the University, he founded the Academy of Robotics, a vehicle manufacturing company, to develop Kar-go. Kar-go is a driverless car that can deliver multiple packages by using a combination of advanced robotics and driverless vehicle technology.
Supercomputer – Philip Emeagwali
Though he left school at just 13 because of the Nigerian Civil War, Philip Emeagwali went on to become one of the greatest computer pioneers of our time. Some call him the “Bill Gates of Africa.”
In a chat, Philip noted that he drew his inspiration from nature, especially bees. Studying the efficient way they constructed a honeycomb made him rethink his approach to computer processing. In 1989 he put his ideas to work and used 65,000 processes to invent the world’s first supercomputer – able to perform 3.1 billion calculations per second.
Today, his computers are being used to forecast the weather and predict the effects of global warming.
Improved Ironing Board, – Sarah Boone
It is a product that’s used possibly just as much as it’s overlooked. Records have it that in the late 19th century, it was improved upon by Sarah Boone, an African American woman who was born enslaved. One of the first Black women in U.S. history to receive a patent, she expanded upon the original ironing board, which was essentially a horizontal wooden block originally patented in 1858. With Boone’s 1892 additions, the board featured a narrower and curved design, making it easier to iron garments, particularly women’s clothing. Boone’s design would morph into the modern ironing board that we use today.
The Three-Light Traffic Signal – Garrett Morgan
Black inventor (and son of an enslaved parent), Garrett Morgan came up with several significant inventions, including an improved sewing machine and the gas mask. But, one of Morgan’s most influential inventions was the improved traffic light. Records have it that Morgan’s was one of the first three-light systems that were invented in the 1920s, resulting in widespread adoption of the traffic lights we take for granted today.
Refrigerated Trucks – Frederick McKinley Jones
Jones, an African American, took out more than 60 patents throughout his life, including a patent for the roof-mounted cooling system that’s used to refrigerate goods on trucks during extended transportation in the mid-1930s. It is on record that he received a patent for his invention in 1940, and co-founded the U.S. Thermo Control Company, later known as Thermo King. The company was critical during World War II, helping to preserve blood, food and supplies during the war.
Automatic Elevator Doors – Alexander Miles
Before the invention of automatic doors, people had to manually shut both the shaft and elevator doors before riding. Forgetting to do so led to multiple accidents as people fell down elevator shafts. It was gathered that when the daughter of African American inventor Alexander Miles almost fatally fell down the shaft, he took it upon himself to develop a solution. In 1887 he took out a patent for a mechanism that automatically opens and closes elevator shaft doors and his designs are largely reflected in elevators used today.
Electret Microphone, Co-Invented by James E. West in 1964
Along with his German colleague Gerhard Sessler, West, a Black man invented the foil electret microphone, which was considerably less expensive to produce than the typically used condenser microphones. Records have it that two years after it was invented, the final model of the microphone was developed and in 1964 they patented the landmark invention. And remarkably, four years later, the new microphone was in wide production and was being used in hearing aids, tape recorders, most telephones and baby monitors.