Historic Innovators: 9 Great African-American Women Inventors
Part of the Black History Month celebration is to take a look back at all of the significant contributions that African Americans have made to this country, and to mankind as a whole. To that end, we’re taking a look at nine black women whose inventions have made life better for people around the world.
Years ago, Americans might have thought it preposterous to pay for a home security system to thwart break-ins. Yet, that’s just the need Marie Van Brittan Brown and her husband, Albert, inventors of a home surveillance device, foresaw. Brown’s closed circuit television security system was patented in 1969. It was built with four peep holes, a sliding camera and remote control capabilities. The device would serve as a prototype for future, more advanced home security systems.
On February 23, 1993, Joanna Hardin invented the CompUrest keyboard stand. As with many inventions, necessity led the way. A computer activist, Hardin suffered from numerous computer-related injuries, leading her to seek a remedy. The keyboard she invented with her friend, Bernard Hirschenson, proved to be that remedy, ridding her of the injuries as well as preventing other typists from suffering joint and nerve wear and tear.
Madam C. J. Walker, the first self-made woman millionaire in the United States, was one of six children. Adult hair loss propelled her to seek a way to restore her hair’s health. She developed a product that treated the scalp and promoted hair growth. The hair products became increasingly popular, being sold under the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. Some of her products, like Vitamin E Super Grow, Temple Salve, Glossine Pressing Oil and hair and scalp prep, continue to be sold through the official Madam C. J. Walker Company website.
On May 15, 1956, Mary Kenner was awarded a patent for her invention of the sanitary belt. Kenner was only 18 years old. Nearly three years later, on April 14, 1959, Kenner was awarded another patent for inventing a sanitary belt that was constructed with a moisture proof napkin
Another trendsetter in the hair care field was Lyda Newman, inventor of an enhanced hair brush, the first made with synthetic bristles. Newman was granted a patent for her enhanced hair brush in 1898. These words were included with the patent, “The object of the invention is to provide a new and improved hair brush which is simple and durable in construction, very effective when in use, and arranged to permit of conveniently cleaning the brush whenever desired.”
The numbers of women suffering chemical burns while applying dyes, relaxers and perms to their hair may have decreased after Carol Randall was granted a patent for her ear clips on November 20, 1990. As noted in the patent, the ear clips were designed to “hold the ears in a position folded forward and down to allow unobstructed access to the hairline area behind the ears.”
The first African-American woman to receive a patent, Sarah Goode, was born a slave in 1850. At the end of the Civil War, she moved to Chicago and founded her own furniture store. It was her customers’ complaints, voicing that they didn’t have sufficient room in their homes to fit more furniture inside, that inspired Goode to create a folding bed. The made served as a desk when folded and as a bed when unfolded. Goode was granted a patent for her invention on July 14,1885.
Built with a narrow wood board, a padded cover and collapsible legs, Sarah Boone’s ironing board rid Americans of the need to place a slab of wood across two chairs to iron wrinkles out of their clothes. Boone’s ironing board was patented on April 26, 1892. It would serve as a prototype for more advanced, modern ironing boards.
In addition to being the inventor of the cataract Laserphacoprobe (a medical device used to remove cataracts from the eye), in 1974, Dr. Patricia Bath became the first woman ophthalmologist appointed to the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine Jules Stein Eye Institute. Nine years later, in 1983, Dr. Bath became the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in America. She was awarded a patent for inventing the cataract Laserphacoprobe on May 17, 1988.
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