Meet 10 Black Inventors Who Changed Our Lives

Black Inventors

Black History Month continues here at Ascentim. Last week, we talked about some of the ladies who made history by being the first. These women did everything from winning Nobel Peace Prizes and Olympic gold medals to becoming bankers and ballerinas. This week, we’re turning our attention to some Black men who made our lives better through the extraordinary gift of invention

Once again, these are not well-known names that we hear every day. These men, however, deserve their due for ingenuity, talent, and creativity that moved our whole world forward. Ready? Let’s dive in! 

10 Black Men Who Made Stuff 

1.  Lewis Latimer – A prolific inventor and draftsman, he created developed an essential component of the light bulb: the carbon filament. Lewis also worked with Alexander Graham Bell (to help draft the patent for Bell’s telephone design) and Thomas Edison. He improved railroad car bathrooms, created an early version of an air conditioner, and devised ways to make elevators safer.   

Otis Boykin

2.  Otis Boykin – Otis patented 26 devices. His most notable contribution was a control unit that improved pacemakers, inspired by the death of his mother due to heart failure. His catalog of accomplishments is long and includes work on IBM computers, chemical air filters, burglar-proof cash registers, and electronic resistors used to control missiles.  

Lonnie Johnson Lonnie Johnson

3. Lonnie Johnson – As an Aerospace Engineer for NASA, Lonnie worked on the Air Force missions Lab, the nuclear power source for the Galileo mission to Jupiter, the Mariner Mark ll Spacecraft series for the Comet Rendezvous and Saturn Orbiter Probe missions, and the stealth bomber program. Notably, Lonnie also invented the Super Soaker for the Nerf line of toys! 

“Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.” –  Louis Pasteur

4. Philip Emeagwali – Known as “The Bill Gates of Africa,” Philip invented the world’s first massively parallel processing supercomputer. Though some of his claims about his accomplishments have been called into question, he did win the Gordon Bell Prize in 1989. 

Jessie Ernest Wilkins, Jr.

5. Jesse Ernest Wilkins, Jr. – Jess was a child prodigy who entered the University of Chicago at the age of 13 and earned a doctorate in mathematics at 19 years old. He perfected lens design for microscopes and ophthalmologic uses, developed mathematical models to explain gamma radiation, and developed a shield against gamma radiation. He co-developed the Wigner-Wilkins approach upon which all nuclear reactors are designed. In 1974, he was appointed as the President of the American Nuclear Society. 

6. Elijah McCoy – Ever wonder where the expression “the real McCoy” comes from? Thank Elijah! To improve efficiency and eliminate the frequent stops needed to lubricate a train, he developed a “lubricating cup” that could automatically drip oil as needed (1872). The lubricating cup was so popular that other inventors attempted to make and sell their own versions of it, but railroad engineers weren’t fooled. They insisted on the original device and asked for “the Real McCoy.” Elijah held as many as 57 patents. 

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”  –  Barack Obama

Garret Morgan

7. Garrett Morgan – Inventor of things that made us safer. Garrett created a “safety hood” to protect firefighters in smoky buildings and later modified it with an air supply – thereby creating the world’s first gas mask.  And, believe it or not, there was a time when traffic signals only had two positions (red and green). It was Garret’s bright idea to add yellow. Another notable discovery of his was a chemical hair-processing and straightening solution.  

Percy Julian Percy Julian

8. Percy Lavon Julian – One of the first African American men to receive a doctorate in chemistry, and the first African American chemist to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, Percy received more than 130 chemical patents. His work in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants laid the foundation for the production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and birth control pills. 

Granville T. Woods

9. Granville Tailer Woods – Referred to by some as the “Black Edison,” Granville held more than 50 patents and was the first African American mechanical and electrical engineer after the Civil War. One of his many notable inventions was the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph which sent messages between moving trains and train stations, ensuring a safer public transportation system for travel across the United States. 

Leonard C. Bailey

10. Leonard C. Bailey – Leonard founded one of the first African-American banks in the United States, in addition to his inventions that were designed mainly for military or government use. These include a collapsible, folding bed adopted by the U.S. military, a rapid mail-stamping machine used by the U.S. Postal Service, a device to shunt trains to different tracks, and a hernia truss that the U.S. Army Medical Board widely used. 

What Will You Invent? 

Wow, those are some seriously smart Black men. And they did it all before Shark Tank. 

I myself don’t own the rights to 50+ patents, and I wager you don’t either. And that’s okay because we all own the power of creativity. If you have an invention on your mind, today is the day to start drafting. If what you want is an abundant and fulfilling life that meets your needs and feeds your soul, draft that. I’ve got the pencil and paper ready for you – so let’s talk about what you want to create for yourself.

Lisa L. Baker - Certified Personal, Career, Success and Life Coach

Lisa L. Baker is a professional life coach, career strategist, and keynote speaker. Lisa is the founder of Ascentim – a Maryland-based coaching practice that utilizes a unique G.R.O.W. process to help clients gain clarity, realize new possibilities, overcome obstacles, and win at life. Lisa shows high-performing professionals how to Level Up and Live the Life of Their Dreams.

Ready to G.R.O.W.?