As we close out Black History Month, we want to celebrate those that have not only made a difference in Black history, but made an impact on society as a whole. From important inventions in technology to everyone’s favorite snack, we bow to these Black inventors that simply changed history by creating inventions that we all know and love to this day.
Garrett Morgan, son of enslaved parents, has been noted to invent a number of significant objects including an improved sewing machine and a gas mask, but something that remains a large impact and that is used to this day is a contribution to how we commute each and every day. In 1923, Morgan made a game-changing invention that would contribute to how the world travels– the three-light traffic signal. After witnessing a severe car accident, Morgan decided to expand on the current traffic light by adding the yellow “yield” signal to warn drivers of an nearing stop.
Madam C.J. Walker
Making history as the first Black woman to become a self-made millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker is also known for creating a line of cosmetics and hair products geared towards Black consumers. She had female door-to-door sales agents selling her products across the U.S. and the Caribbean and also offered employee development and business training to help other Black women achieve financial independence.
The world can thank George Crum, chef and restaurateur, for creating everyone’s favorite snack – the potato chip. He unintentionally created potato chips in 1853 as they were made in response to a customer who sent back their fried potatoes after complaining they were too thick. The crisps were an instant hit. While claiming he changed history may sound a bit far fetched, just think of how many potato chips are consumed on Super Bowl Sunday alone.
Before automatic elevator doors were invented, riding an elevator was cumbersome and risky. 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. Alexander Miles took it upon himself to find a safer and more convenient way to ride the elevator after his daughter almost fatally fell down the shaft. In 1887 he took out a patent for a mechanism that automatically opens and closes elevator doors – a design that we all see used in elevators to this day.
Frederick McKinley Jones
We can all thank Frederick McKinely Jones when we enjoy a meal or snack that has been stored in the refrigerator from the store. In the 1930s Jones created refrigerated air-cooling units for trucks, trains and planes so that food could stay fresh during their transport to the stores. Whatsmore is that these units even made an impact in the medical field as his units were used for the preservation of blood and medicine during WWII. In fact, Jones became the first African American to receive the National Medal of Technology in 1991.
Mary Van Brittan Brown
Before there was Ring there was Mary Van Brittan Brown, a Black nurse that created an early security unit for her own home. After feeling unsafe in her home while her husband was away, Brown created a security system that contained a camera that could look through four peepholes in her front door. The camera’s view would then appear on a monitor in her home. She also added other features to the system, including a microphone to speak to anyone at the door, a button to unlock the door, and a button to contact the police. She and her husband took out a patent for the system and were awarded the patent three years later.
Shirley Jackson, the first Black woman to earn a doctorate at MIT, is responsible for great telecommunications research that led to the invention of products such as the touch-tone phone, portable fax, fiber optic cables, and caller ID. In 2014, President Barack Obama named her the co-chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory.
A childhood favorite toy has to be the Super Soaker. Believe it or not, we can thank an engineer that worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for inventing this summertime staple. Lonnie Johnson created the water gun in his free time while working with NASA and the water toy became a huge hit which has now earned well past $1 billion in retail sales.