There are countless innovations often taken for granted, and it’s hard to think back on who originated them. In honor of Black History Month, SOHH spotlights five inventions by Black innovators.
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In today’s day and age, modern inventions and innovations are often taken for granted. It can be difficult to think back on who originated them.
Here are five inventions by Black innovators:
5 Inventions By Black Innovators
Sarah Goode: Inventor Of The Cabinet Bed And The First Black Woman To File A U.S. Patent
While not much is known about Sarah Goode, the little that’s been made public is quite remarkable. Goode was born into slavery in 1885 and was freed five years later by 1860, moving from Ohio to Chicago soon after.
While living in Chicago, she married a carpenter named Archibald Goode and gave birth to six children. While living in a densely packed apartment with others, she thought up the idea of a foldable cabinet bed.
Goode would go on to make history by becoming the first Black woman to file a patent for her bed in 1885. In addition to also serving as a desk, Sarah implemented compartments for people to put away writing tools and stationery.
Alice H. Parker: Inventor Of The Heating Furnace With Burner System
Little is known about the Morristown, N.J. native. Parker went to school at the Howard University Academy in Washington and graduated in 1910 with honors.
The frigid winters in the Northeast were what served as inspiration for her to file a patent in 1919 for a heating system that ran on natural gas. While the majority of her actual designs were not implemented due to safety concerns, it’s believed that her ideas led to modern-day central heating.
The sketches of her early designs and patent can still be found on the official website of the Lemelson-MIT Program.
Garrett Morgan: Inventor Of The Gas Mask And Improved Early Traffic Lights
Garrett Morgan was a businessman and social activist born in Paris, Ky. Morgan’s idea for the gas mask came in 1911, the year of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that claimed the lives of 146 workers.
As this was before child labor laws were enacted, most victims were young girls.
The highly publicized tragedy moved the Kentucky native to work on solutions that led to him filing his patent in 1914.
Word circulated around the town of his device and he was soon sought out by the Cleveland police to provide masks. This followed after a gas pocket explosion near Lake Erie killed 11 construction workers and filled the air with toxic smoke.
Close to five years later, Garrett saw an accident involving a car and horse-drawn carriage, per a report by Scientific American. To remedy this, he filed a patent to improve the then-implemented “stop or go” system to create a three-position traffic light in 1923.
He sold his mechanism to General Electric (GE) for nearly $40,000.
Jerry Lawson- Father Of Modern Video Games
Electronic engineer Jerry Lawson is credited as the inventor of the video game cartridge. While working at Fairchild Camera and Instrument as an engineering consultant, Queens native Lawson met many big names in Silicon Valley.
CNBC said he was “not impressed” when meeting Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. However, after speaking with Allan Alcorn, the creator of the early video game Pong, he began to gain interest in working on games. He then began a side hustle of building his game console in his garage.
His side project with a select team was officially released in 1976, dubbed the “Channel F,” a home gaming system that pioneered the pause feature found on many gaming controllers. On the console, his team built in the then-unique benefit of inserting and switching out game cartridges with relative ease.
Posthumously, the gaming icon was honored with the 2021 Andrew Yoon Legend Award by the New York Videogame Critics Circle for his contributions. His son, Anderson Lawson, accepted the award on his behalf and spoke of growing up with him and his father’s legacy.
Lonnie Johnson- Inventor Of The Super Soaker
Similarly to Garrett Morgan, Lonnie Johnson held several patents over the years before shaking up the summer toy realm, including wet diaper detectors and the iconic Nerf Blasters. The day Johnson invented the Super Soaker was not intentional.
The former Air Force and NASA engineer credits himself as “a tinkerer.” While working on an idea for an improvement on a heat pump, inspiration hit. As a burst of water shot across his room, Johnson thought to himself, “That would make a great squirt gun.”
Johnson found himself piecing together anything he could get his hands on around the house, putting together pipes, plexiglass, and a bottle of soda to craft a prototype.
After filing the patent in 1986, he tried his hardest to market the toy to companies but to no avail. He eventually licensed it to the Larami Corporation. The Philadelphia-based toy company dubbed it the “Power Drencher” in 1990.
Johnson went on to re-brand and tweak his early designs to make the Super Soaker. The sales for the newly-marketed toy were through the roof-garnering as much as $200 million in sales. In 2022, Lonnie was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
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