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Celebrating Black inventors

Nosayaba Odesanya | 3/13/2014, 10:01 a.m.
Black innovators

Once you start researching Black inventors, you just can’t stop.

Thank you all, thank you each and every one of you. What would we do without you? Without inventors in general, we wouldn’t have computers, phones, iPads, beds, food processors and headphones, etc.

While February is named Black History Month, all year long we can honor our historical figures, important people and the creators of the objects we use everyday. For the latter, we have to go to the source, find out what they invented and celebrate their success.

For example, Dr. Herbert Smitherman was a pioneering executive and professional chemist at Proctor & Gamble who led the way for other African-Americans at the prestigious company in the 1960s. He was the first Black person with a doctorate hired at Proctor & Gamble.

With a Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry, Smitherman developed a number of incredibly popular patents, including Crest toothpaste, Safeguard soap, Bounce fabric softeners, Biz, Folgers Coffee and Crush soda, to name a few. Not only are they still on the shelves, but many of them are on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center in the featured exhibit “America I AM: The African-American Imprint.”

Another unsung African-American inventor is Thomas Jennings, born in 1791. He is believed to have been the first Black inventor to receive a patent for an invention. He was 30 years old when he was granted a patent for a dry cleaning process.

Jennings was a free tradesman and operated a dry cleaning business in New York City. His income went mostly to his abolitionist activities. In 1831, he became assistant secretary for the first ever Convention of the People of Color in Philadelphia, Pa.

And who can forget about Judy W. Reed? She may not have been able to write her name, but she patented a hand-operated machine for kneading and rolling dough. She is probably the first African-American woman to obtain a patent.

Sarah E. Goode is believed to have been the second African-American woman to receive a patent. Born into slavery in 1850 and “freed”after the Civil War, she was able to achieve much, receiving recognition from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for inventing a folding cabinet bed in 1885. She died in 1905

The overall lesson for young people is always to respect those who came before you because you may never know what they have done for you.