7 Great Black Inventors You May Not Have Heard Of

Including the first self-made female millionaire in the United States.

The United States of America is built on dreams and diversity. Because we live in the "home of the free, because of the brave," everybody has the opportunity to accomplish whatever they set their minds to. Among those that have accomplished the things they set out to do are these 7 inventors you may not have heard of.

1) Benjamin Banneker November 9, 1731 – October 9, 1806,


Inventions: America's first clock (early 1750s), author of six farmers almanacs (1792-1797)


The son of former slaves once borrowed a neighbor's watch, took it apart, and studied its components. After he reassembled it and returned it to its owner, Banneker constructed a fully functional clock completely out of carved wood pieces. The clock worked for decades. The success of this invention got him enough recognition and attention to spur the start of his own watch and clock repair business. Banneker also accurately predicted the 1789 solar eclipse after borrowing books on astronomy and mathematics from a friend. That prediction preceded his authorship of six farmers almanacs and his future employment working as a surveyor for President George Washington. He and two other workers oversaw the layout of Washington D.C..

2) George Crum born George Speck c. 1828 – July 22, 1914


Invention: the potato chip.

lee and low

The birth of potato chips was an accident. Agitated by a patron who kept sending his fries back because they were too wide, George Crum decided to enact a little revenge. With a wicked angel on his shoulder, Crum sliced the potatoes very wide and very thin, seasoned them with extra salt. The patron, much to Crum's surprise, loved them. They soon became a regular itemSaratoga Chips on the lodge's menu under the name "Saratoga Chips."

3) Miriam Benjamin date of birth and death unknown

Invention: Gong and Signal Chair


Benjamin's chair allowed hotel patrons to summon waiters by pushing a button attached to the back. The signal would buzz the waiter station and a light would appear on the chair, letting the waiters know who needed service. The actual patent was issued to Benjamin in 1888. Her invention was adapted and used in the United States House of Representatives. The chairs are not often seen in hotels or restaurants any more, but you could say the Gong and Signal chair was a precursor to signaling systems on airplanes to alert flight attendants when a passenger requires assistance or service. Benjamin was the second black woman to receive a patent.

4) Madame C. J. Walker December 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919


Invention: Lotion to remedy hair loss.


Out of a desire to remedy her own hair-loss, Walker started what she called the "hair-growing business." She created a scalp conditioning and healing lotion that would remedy hair-loss. She went door-to-door all over the south and south east selling her product and giving demonstrations. In fifteen years, the daughter and sister to former slaves amassed a fortune, becoming the first self-made female millionaire in the United States. .

"There is no royal flower-strewn path to success," she once observed. "And if there is, I have not found it - for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard."

5) Jack Johnson No, not the banana pancake guy. March 31, 1878 – June 10, 1946


Invention: Johnson Wrench


Jack Johnson is most widely known for his boxing career, in which he defeated Canadian boxer Tommie Burns at the world championship in Sydney on December 26, 1908, and then defeated "Great White Hope," James Jeffries, who had come out of retirement to fight him. Johnson's victory over Jeffries caused trouble in a racially heated time. His two marriages to caucasian women were also poorly received by the majority of society and not to mention, the law. He was convicted of violating the Mann Act when he transported his fiancé across state lines before they were married. While in prison, Johnson needed a tool that would help tighten loosened fastening devices, and modified a wrench to fit the task. After he was released in 1921, he patented his invention in April, 1922.

6) Garrett Morgan March 4, 1877 – August 27, 1963

Invention: The Garret Augustus Morgan traffic signal, gas mask


After witnessing a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage, Morgan decided to try his hand at preventing accidents--which were frequent since it was common back then for automobiles, carriages, pedestrians and cyclists to share the same roadways.

Morgan designed an improved traffic signal applied for a patent. After his patent was granted on Nov. 20, 1923, he patented it in Great Britain and Canada as well.

The Morgan traffic signal was a T-shaped pole unit that featured three positions: Stop, Go and an all-directional stop position. This "third position" halted traffic in all directions to allow pedestrians to cross streets more safely. Morgan's hand-operated device was used throughout North America until it was replaced with the traffic light we are familiar with today.


In July of 1916, before he improved the traffic signal, Morgan helped save the lives of 32 men trapped beneath a collapsed tunnel by donning a mask he created to prevent the inhalation of toxins. Had he and a few other volunteers not been wearing them, the 32 men would have perished 250 feet below the ground. Morgan called it the Morgan Safety Hood and Smoke Protector.

Although the invention clearly worked, people were not inclined to purchase the mask since Morgan was black. "They rather let their people die than rescue them by a gas mask of a black man," said Constance Harper, editor of The Call & Post, a newspaper Morgan helped create in 1928.

7) Michael Jackson Yes, Michael Jackson, as in the-guy-who-did-Thriller. August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009


Invention: Anti-Gravity Shoes (and technically, the moonwalk)


Shoe Blog

The legendary performer was so committed to his craft that he invented a pair of shoes for the execution of a single dance-move: the smooth-criminal lean. That's how MJ and his dancers were able to appear as though they were defying gravity when executing the maneuver pictured above. The abstract description on his patent reads: A system for allowing a shoe wearer to lean forwardly beyond his center of gravity by virtue of wearing a specially designed pair of shoes which will engage with a hitch member movably projectable through a stage surface. The shoes have a specially designed heel slot which can be detachably engaged with the hitch member by simply sliding the shoe wearer's foot forward, thereby engaging with the hitch member. He's always been considered a musical genius, but who would have thought he also had to chops to cobble a pair of gravity-defying shoes? I guess it's not surprising; he did invent the moonwalk after all.

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