Percy L. Julian, an African American inventor, once said, “I have had one goal in my life, that of playing some role in making life a little easier for the persons who come after me.” As the holder of 130 patents – including industrial chemicals used in firefighting – Julian, who died in 1975, certainly has made a difference in society.
He is just one of a wealth of Black inventors – some of them former slaves or the sons or daughters of slaves – whose devices, inventions, processes, and innovations have made our lives better. To compile a list of some of them, 24/7 Tempo consulted numerous sources including History, Biography, Parents, and Invent (the website for the National Inventors Hall of Fame).
Many of the creations of these inventors were new devices or improvements on existing ones found in the home. These include the portable ironing board, the dustpan and the eggbeater. To maximize space in small apartments, one woman created a bed that could fold into a cabinet. For greater convenience, a man reduced treks to the post office by inventing the street letter box. (Read about 36 Black women who changed American history.)
A Black inventor developed a refrigeration system in long-haul trucks that revolutionized the grocery industry. Others invented ways to improve safety outside the home, such as the three-way traffic light and automatic doors on elevators. An African-American’s development of a process for separating plasma from blood, allowing it to be stored for up to a week, has helped save countless lives. (Here are 30 NASA inventions we still use today.)
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