Start My Family Tree Welcome to Geni, home of the world's largest family tree.
Join Geni to explore your genealogy and family history in the World's Largest Family Tree.

African-American Inventors

« Back to Projects Dashboard

view all


  • Jack Johnson (1878 - 1946)
    John Arthur "Jack" Johnson (March 31, 1878 – June 10, 1946), nicknamed the Galveston Giant was an American boxer, who—at the height of the Jim Crow era—became the first African American world heavywe...
  • George "Crum" Speck (1828 - 1914)
    In a 1932 interview with the Saratogian newspaper, her grandson, John Gilbert Freeman, asserted Wicks's role as the true inventor of the potato chip. Hugh Bradley's 1940 history of Saratoga contains ...
  • George Edward Alcorn
    George Edward Alcorn, Jr. was born on March 22, 1940, to George and Arletta Dixon Alcorn. His father was an auto mechanic who sacrificed so Alcorn and his brother could get an education. Alcorn attende...
  • James Forten (1766 - 1842)
    James Forten was a wealthy African-American businessman (sail maker) and abolitionist, born free in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Forten began experimenting with different types of sails for ships and fi...
  • Dr. Austin Wingate Curtis (1872 - d.)
    Dr. Austin W. Curtis Jr. was a long time companion and business partner of George Washington Carver. In 1935, Dr. Curtis arrived at Tuskegee in September. For the next eight years Dr. Curtis worked wit...

One major part of American history is all that Africans of America and their descendants have done to build, shape and help establish what we call one of the greatest countries of the world. Black people have contributed in many professions from farming to heart surgery and rocket science, perfected and/or found uses in their services that would benefit us all over the world.


RICE: West Africans introduced the rice plant and cultivation to North America. West Africans, who had grown the rice plant since AD 100, were transported by English planters on Barbados to South Carolina in the late 17th century.

DUGOUT CANOE: West Africans along with the Indians introduced the English in the 17th century to dugout canoes. The English had difficulty learning to steer or row. Slaves built the canoes by hollowing out large cypress logs, burning the insides so that it could be held open by sticks, and then after the hull hardened, adding log planks to the sides. 2 or 3 logs conjoined could make larger canoes.

POISONING FISH: Africans were some of the best fishermen, having been drugging fish in order to catch them faster. They created dams and poured plant juices into the water to intoxicate the fish and grab them by hand.

IRONSMITHING: Ironsmithing was a highly developed technology in West Africa by the sixteenth century when the slave trade began, and Africans brought this technology with them when they crossed the Atlantic.

SHOTGUN HOUSES: The shotgun house found extensively in African-American neighborhoods throughout the American South was an African-American invention. These long homes built the tradition of African-Americans interacting and relaxing on the front porch, to escape the interaction that went on in such a home.

QUILTING LANGUAGE: Although, African-Americans did not create the quilt, they had the most prolific language created within the quilt. They designed the quilt to communicate with travelers or used them as maps to escape from slavery. A quilt hung outside a house meant it was a safe house for runaway slaves.


Africans introduced the practice of inoculation in America as a cure for smallpox. They had practiced inoculation prior to the slave trade. In 1721, a Boston slave named Onesimus instructed Cotton Mather, the Puritan cleric, about the technique. Mather injected infected fluid into another person and found the second person became immune from catching the disease. Cotton Mather wrote a pamphlet about Onesimus and innoculation became a standard medical practice.

African-American women enjoyed a wide-spread reputation in the 18th century for being excellent midwives, practitioners of the art and science of assisted childbirth. From Africa, these midwives brought with them the knowledge of the Cesearan Section, which made them highly valued for their treatment of White and Black mothers-to-be.

  • Benjamin Banneker, developed the first clock built in the United States, studied astronomy and developed an almanac. Helped to create the layout of the building streets and monuments for the Nation's Capitol - Washington, D.C.
  • James Forten, invented a sail for ships that provided better maneuvering and maintaining of greater speeds.


  • Benjamin Montgomery, a slave, while working as a mechanic on Jefferson Davis tried to obtain a patent for Montgomery's invention but the Attorney General did not want to allow them to profit from the invention. When Jefferson became president he changed the law to allow masters to claim rights on their slave's inventions.
  • Peter R. Campbell, a former slave of Joseph Davis patented a screw press in 1879.
  • Charles T. Christmas, a former slave, patented a device to simplify the baling of cotton in 1880.
  • Lockrum Blue recieved a patent in 1884 for a corn sheller.
  • Miriam E. Benjamin invented a chair with a small flag and bell that an occupant could ring for service while seated in a restaurant. This chair was used in high end hotel dining rooms. With the help of Black Congressman George Washington Murray, this chair was used in the House of Representatives.
  • Elijah McCoy invented an automatic engine lubricator to continuously oil train and ship engines. Major companies invested in his product. The term "the real McCoy" was coined as a way to ask if something was genuine. Among over 50 patents and inventions, he was credited for inventing the ironing board, lawn sprinkler, and his favorite invention, the Graphite Lubricator (which he patented in 1915).
  • Andrew J. Beard, developed the best device for automatically coupling cars, which he called the Jenny Automatic Coupler in 1897.
  • H.H. Reynolds invented a ventilator that allowed air to flow into cars and at the same time kept dust and soot out. Reynolds told his idea to the Pullman company and they stole it. Reynold sued and won the right to profit from his own invention.
  • Henry Boyd invented a bed whose wooden rails screwed into both the headboard and footboard giving it a much stronger structure than other early 19th century beds. He purchased his freedom with his skills and bed. He never patented his bed but stamped his name on every frame for authenticity.
  • Jan Ernst Matzeliger, while working in a shoe shop noticed difficulty making shoes. No machine could attach the upper part of a shoe to the sole. This had to be done manually by a "hand laster"; a skilled one could produce 50 pairs in a ten-hour day. His invention and patent of the Shoe Lasting Machine in 1883 cut costs in half while greatly increasing production.
  • Jo Anderson, a slave invented the reaper which slave owner Cyrus McCormick was given credit to and reaped financial rewards from. Slaves were considered property and not citizens. In order to gain credit, one would have been a citizen.
  • Lewis Latimer received a patent in 1882 for his unique design of carbon filaments for the electric incandescent lamp sold by Hiram Maxim's US Electric Lighting Company.
  • Archia Ross, a laundress patented her Wrinkle-Preventing Trouser Stretcher in 1899, and also invented a device to keep handbags closed and a runner to be used on doorsteps.
  • Joseph Lee, a chef patented a bread crumbing machine to reduce bread to crumbs through a tearing and grinding process in 1895.
  • Ned, an ironworker slave of Oscar J. E. Stuart, invented a labor-saving cotton scraper. At the time the law was patents could only be registered to citizens which slaves were not considered as. Stuart got the patent, sold and profited off the cotton scraper. Ned was never heard of or from again.
  • Thomas Jennings was the first African-American to receive a patent. He invented a new way of cleaning in his dry cleaning shop, and used his earnings to buy his family out of slavery.
  • Henry Blair was the 2nd African-American to receive a patent. He created a corn harvester and received his patent on a cotton seed planter he invented.
  • Lewis Temple, an African-American ironworker invented the toggle whaling harpoon.
  • Granville T. Woods, engineer and inventor, who developed and patented several inventions relating to telegraphy.
  • Norbert Rillieux, an American inventor and engineer, is most noted for his invention of the multiple-effect evaporator, an energy-efficient means of evaporating water. This invention was an important development in the growth of the sugar industry.

AFTER 1865

Passage of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution brought a generally unrecognized benefit to African-Americans: these Amendments gave African-Americans the right to patent their inventions. After the Civil War, Blacks patented their inventions dramatically from farmers, blacksmiths to scientists. It's impossible to know just how many patents were obtained by African-Americans as racial identity was not recorded by the Patent Office.


  • William H. Barnes is famous for his bloodless operative techniques, and he created several new or improved surgical instruments to make surgeries easier and cleaner.
  • Daniel Hale Williams, not so much an invention, but he was the first person to perform a successful open-heart surgery, and pushed for Black doctors to get better medical education.
  • Shelby J. Davidson developed the Adding Machine out of his efforts to make work in the US Postal Service more efficient.
  • Louis T. Wright founded the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Foundation that dealt with the effectiveness of chemotherapeutic agents to attack and destroy cancer cells. He is most famous for being the first physician in the world to experiment on humans the drug Aureomyci to treat lymphogranuloma venereum, a sexually transmitted disease. He is also credited for inventing the neck brace for patients with broken necks to prevent further damage to the spinal cord during treatment. He invented a blade plate for surgical treatment of fractures above the knee joint.
  • Solomon C. Fuller was known for his research of the human mind and mental illness. He was the first person to practice Psychotherapy; analysis, diagnosis and medical treatment of the mentally ill.
  • William Hinton, developed the Davies-Hinton test for syphilis detection.
  • Charles R. Drew researched the preservation of blood for blood transfusions. Transfusions was not new, but his preservation idea of separating the plasma fro blood was a success and Blood Banks were started.
  • Michael Croslin invented and perfected the computerized blood pressure measuring device called Medtek 410. He started his Medtek company in 1978.
  • Lloyd Augusta Hall got a patent in 1951 for curing salts that revolutionized the meatpacking industry.
  • Ernest E. Just was the first to establish through laboratory experients, t he importance of ectoplasm to the functioning cells.
  • Ralph Gardner was a pioneer chemist who developed hard plastics, as well as worked on the development of the atomic bomb.
  • Earl Shaw developed an accelerator that adjusted the wavelength of an electron laser more easily than others did.
  • George E. Carruthers is responsible for the placement of the ultraviolet camera/spectrograph on the lunar surface. He designed the instrument that went up on Apollo 16 in April 1972.
  • Frederick McKinley Jones invented the portable X-ray machine a refrigerator for military field kitchens, and mechanical refrigeration techniques applied to railroad cars and trucks. He developed ways to keep food fresh and prevent fruit from drying our or over-ripening before they reached supermarkets.
  • James A. Jones received a patent in 1919 for the invention of a mechanism to raise and lower a top for an automobile, coined The Convertible Top.
  • George Washington Carver; invented Peanut Butter among other uses of Peanuts.
  • Austin Curtis companion and business partner of George Washington Carver, helped research for inventions.
  • Madam CJ Walker; invented hair care products for Black women; became the first Black woman, self-made millionaire.
  • A'Lelia Walker, helped her mother found the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company in 1906, then opened its New York office and beauty salon in 1913.
  • Prince (aka The Artist Formerly Known as Prince or by a symbol O+>), already a famous musician and actor, created a portable keyboard he coined as a Keytar.
  • Jelly Roll Morton, allegedly the inventor of Jazz music.
  • Garrett Morgan, inventor of the 4-way Traffic light, hair care products, and Smoke Protecting hood.
  • George Alcorn Jr. holds eight patents in the United States and Europe on semiconductor technology, one of which is a method of fabricating an imaging X-ray spectrometer.
  • Bessie Blount Griffin During World War II, as part of her work with wounded soldiers, Blount devised an apparatus to help amputees feed themselves. She invented an electronic feeding device in 1951, a feeding tube that delivered one mouthful of food at a time, controlled by biting down on the tube.[2] The American Veterans Administration did not accept her invention, so she sold it to the French government. Blount was once a physical therapist to the mother-in-law of Theodore Edison, son of famed inventor Thomas Edison. She and the younger Edison became close friends and while in his home she invented the disposable cardboard emesis basin. This invention was also not accepted by the American Veterans Administration, so she sold it to Belgium.


  • Beyonce Knowles; already a world-reknowned music artist and actress, started her own fashion label, Dereon.