Black Inventors

As I thought about Black History Month and the Blog Hop, I wanted to find something fun to share with you. I reviewed two great books for grades 3+ for Black History Month last week, so I was looking for something more of a lesson and research.  I am lucky. I have a former colleague who is black and was a history teacher (now a vice principal) and every February he shares 28 posts about black history. I considered taking some of the people and events in his posts to share with you, but as I started researching some of them I found all these amazing inventions we use almost every day that were invented or helped to be invented by black people. So I am going to share some black inventors and their creations with you.

Black Inventors & Inventions

Dr. Herbert C. Smitherman Sr.

Dr. Herbert Smitherman worked for Proctor and Gamble for 29 years as a research chemist and manager. He was the first African American with a doctorate hired at Proctor and Gamble. His work there had him improving the formula of Crest Toothpaste. He also worked on Safeguard soap, Bounce fabric softeners, Folgers Coffee, Crush soda flavors, and others. Now how many of these brands have you used? Did you ever think about who created them?
STS070-372-004 Crest


  • Gates, Henry Louis Jr., The Root. "Did a Black Man Invent Crest Toothpaste?" (20 Oct 2014) 
  • Tristatesobits. "Dr. Herman Charles Smitherman, Sr." 

Thomas Jennings

Thomas Jennings was a tailor and abolitionist. His business grew due to his quality work. He was heartbroken to hear that many of his customers discarded the clothes when they became soiled since traditional cleaning methods destroyed the fabric. He found a new way to clean the clothes and in 1820 was the first African American to receive a patent for his  “dry-scouring” cleaning method. This dry scouring method is now known as dry cleaning. Have you ever had clothes dry cleaned? You have Thomas Jennings to thank for it. 


  • Chamberlain, Gaius. The Black Inventor. "Thomas Jennings." (26 Nov 2012) 
  • Palmer, Glen Antoine. The Gentleman's Standard. "Heritage - Thomas L. Jennings." (11 Jan 2013)

Sarah E. Goode

Sarah E. Goode was born into slavery in the 1850s. She was freed after the Civil War. She married a carpenter and stair builder. In 1885 she received a patent for what we now call a murphy bed. She called it a folding cabinet bed. I have read that she was the first African American woman to get a patent but it was actually Judy W. Reed got one earlier in the decade but not much is known about her or her invention.
Sarah Goode's Cabinet Bed Krhaydon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Alexander-Duchesne, Ramiro Nikodemus. We Buy Black. "Daily Dose of History: Sarah Goode - Inventor." (12 Jul 2018)

Sarah Boone

Sarah Boone was born into slavery. She got married and had eight children. She moved from the South to New Haven, Connecticut. There she became a seamstress and struggled getting wrinkles out of her dress. She found away using chairs and a board. Ironing board was invented. She received a patent for her ironing board in 1892. Have you ever ironed clothes? Did you use an ironing board?
Sarah Boone - Ironing Board


  • Alexander-Duchesne, Ramiro Nikodemus. We Buy Black. "Daily Dose of History: Sarah Boone - Inventor" (24 Jun 2018) 

Alfred L. Cralle

Alfred L. Cralle was born after the Civil War. He attended a school in Washington, D.C. for a few years and then moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he worked as a porter for a drugstore and hotel. He noticed the difficulty the people serving ice cream had and invented the ice cream scoop. At age 30 he received a patent for it. Yup, I know you have probably used an ice cream scoop and now you know to thank Alfred L. Cralle for it.
Patente funderelele
Alfred L. Cralle's Ice Cream Scoop (Source)

  • Momodu, Samuel. Black Past. "Alfred L. Cralle (1866-1920)" (31 Dec 2017)

Frederick McKinley Jones

Frederick McKinley Jones had a tough childhood. He was virtually orphaned at age 7 and brought up by a priest. At age 11 he left school and got a job as a cleaning boy and by age 14 worked as an automobile mechanic. Around 1938 he invented his most famous invention which a portable air-cooling unit for trucks. This allowed food and blood to be transported without ice. So when you see a refrigeration truck out on the road today, now that Frederick McKinley Jones had something to do with it. He also went on inventing and had 61 patents in his lifetime. It included 40 for refrigeration items and others include things like a portable x-ray machine, sound machines and gas engines. We have many things to thank him for. You should learn a bit more about this man.
I also found this book at our public library that has several black inventors in it including Frederick McKinley Jones.


  • Famous Black Inventors. "Frederick McKinley Jones." 
  • WorldKings World Records Union. "On This Day - July 12, 2018 - Frederick McKinley Jones receives a patent for an air conditioning unit for trucks, helping to change long-haul carriage of food and blood in 1940" (12 Jul 2018) 

Alexander Miles 


Alexander Miles was an inventor at heart. He started early in his career as a barber making different hair care products. Although John W. Meaker held a patent on the first automatic elevator door system, Alexander Miles noticed an issue with it when riding on an elevator with his young daughter. Meaker's system still required the shaft doors to be closed manually and people did not always remember and there were accidents due to it. Alexander Miles improved on the system and got a patent on his improvement. His improvement also got the automatic elevator door system more widely used worldwide. So next time you get on or off an elevator thank Alexander Miles for the safe door system!


  • White, Davon. Black Past. "Alexander Miles (1838-1918)" (04 Jan 2018) 

Dr. Gladys West

Dr Gladys West Hall of Fame 
In 1956 Dr. Gladys West was hired by the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory as a mathematician. There she developed what ultimately became our GPS system. She worked on helping the accuracy and develop the system. She never knew it would affect so many people's lives. In December 2018, she finally got the recognition she deserves for her work. She was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame at the age of 87.  So every time you get your directions or use GPS in your every day life, be sure to thank Dr. West.


  • "Dr. Gladys West: The Black Woman Behind GPS Techonology."
  • Coleman, LeighAnne. KRDO. "Dr. Gladys West, Mathematician and Woman Behind GPS, inducted into Air Force Hall of Fame." (31 Dec 2018)

Patricia Bath

Patricia Bath has many firsts in her life. She was the first black person to complete her residency in ophthalmology. She was the first black female doctor to receive a medical patent. Her patent is for a Laserphaco Probe that is used to treat cataract. She got her patent in 1986. She also noticed the difference between blacks and whites in eye problems and realized it was due to receiving ophthalmology care. She began a community ophthalmology program that is now practiced worldwide to help those that cannot afford the care. She is truly a humanitarian and works to better life for others. I haven't had a chance to check out this book, but I found it at my public library. 


Lewis Howard Latimer

Lewis latimer
Who do you think of when you think about the light bulb? I doubt it is Lewis Howard Latimer. What about the telephone? Again, I doubt it is Lewis Howard Latimer. However he played important parts in both of these inventions. Lewis Howard Latimer was born to parents who moved North to escape slavery. He was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He was a draftsman and worked closely with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. He helped draft the drawings on their patents as well as helped Edison defend his patent. He helped work on the incandescent light bulb with Edison and Hiram Maxim.  He also designed his own inventions including an improved railroad car bathroom and an early air conditioning unit. So when you look at your light bulbs think about Lewis Howard Latimer. There is a photo of his light bulb in the beginning collage. I did find a book on Lewis Latimer at the library as well. I haven't had a chance to read it.


Garrett Morgan

African American-Black Innovations ... where would we be without them? 140211-M-TJ398-001

Our final inventor for today is Garrett Morgan. Now if you drive or cross a street, you probably see and use one of his inventions just about daily. It is the traffic signal with three lights. His was on a pole and had the light for stop, go and stop in all directions. The stop in all directions was like our walk light so pedestrians could cross the street. He patented his light in the US, Canada and Great Britain, but sold his patents to General Electric for $40,000. He had been a sewing machine repairman and eventually opened a tailor shop where many of the machines were his own creation. He also invented what he called a gas hood. He had trouble selling this invention in the United States. However he was able to demonstrate it in different scenarios and once people saw how his gas hood (predecessor to the gas mask) worked and could save lives order came in. The United States Army used them during World War I as well as many firefighters across the country. 

An interesting fact about Garrett Morgan is his race. His father was the child of a slave and a Confederate Colonel, and his mother was half black and half Indian.  I found a couple of books on Garrett Morgan at the library. I have not had a chance to read them as of yet though.


  • Ohio History Central. "Garrett A. Morgan"
  • Who Made America? on "Garrett Augustus Morgan."

So when you think of your every day things, try to think about who invented them or contributed to them. You may be surprised to learn the history of those every day things we tend to not think about. 

Black History Month on Multicultural Kid Blogs
Welcome to our fifth annual Black History Month Blog Hop, where together we explore the rich history and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora.
You can also follow our Black History board on Pinterest:

Participating Blogs

Creative World of Varya on Multicultural Kid Blogs: Black History Month - How It Matters to Us
A Crafty Arab: 24 Black and Muslim Children’s Books
Growing Up Gupta: 10 Interesting Facts About Shirley Chisholm
Great Family Reads: Books About Black Leaders in History for Kids
Mama Smiles: Black History Month Facts and Printable Timeline
Mommy Evolution: African American Toddler Books
Crafty Moms Share: Black Inventors