There are so many items people use every single day to which we don’t give a second thought. A toilet. A hamper. A shower head. It’s probably impossible to count how many products and tools contribute to your day running smoothly. Often, we don’t realize how important something is until it’s broken or lost.
When someone invents something trendy or exciting, we know their name. But what about all of the individuals who are behind the things we rely on the most to simply survive and operate? Black innovators, creators and all-around awe-inspiring individuals have been historically overlooked. Their names and legacies don’t show up in history books nearly as much as they could. This fact even inspired a book called “Lost Histories of African American Inventors” that details some of the many Black creators who didn’t receive the recognition they earned while they were alive. Women have also been historically underrepresented in tales of the past and people who shaped our lives today.
In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s take a look at some of the things you didn’t know were invented by Black women.
The Home Security System
Marie Van Brittan Brown; 1922-1999
Anyone who gets peace of mind from knowing that technology is keeping an eye on their home can thank Marie Van Brittan Brown. Brown was a nurse in the 1960s who had become fed up and terrified by the hate crimes happening in her neighborhood. She learned how to work a motorized camera such that it monitored her home and fed images onto a television. She also set up a two-way microphone that would allow her to communicate with visitors. Brown made the system with her technician husband and the two were granted a patent for it in 1969.
Gaming and Streaming Technology
Lisa Gelobter; 1971 –
Gamers and binge-watchers have a woman named Lisa Gelobter (still alive) to thank for their ability to dive into another world through the screen. She was behind many of the Internet technology used to make such programs possible, including the technology needed to make a GIPH. Gelobter has over 25 years of experience in the software industry (a male-dominated field) and served as the Chief Digital Service Officer for the United States Department of Education. Today, the technologies she helped create are used by millions of people every day.
Hair Grower Product
Madam C.J. Walker; 1867-1919
Madam C.J. Walker (whose legal name was Sarah Breedlove) was America’s first self-made female millionaire and a tremendous businesswoman in the late 1800s through 1900s. She created an innovative product that promoted hair growth, as well as other popular cosmetics sold through her company The Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. At one point, her company employed over 20,000 individuals. To this day, you can buy Walker’s hair products at Sephora.
Forced Air Heater
Alice H. Parker; 1885- 1920
Those who are fortunate enough to enjoy central air in their home can give praise to one Mrs. Alice H. Parker. Parker graduated with honors from Howard University and went on to work as a cook but during her spare time, she managed to create something that would lead the way for central heating. Parker created a furnace that could be powered using natural gas rather than coal or wood, as well as the first air ducts that could be controlled to evenly distribute air throughout a building.
Self-Feeding Apparatus for Amputees
Bessie Blount; 1914-2009
Bessie Blount might not have made something used by many, but she did make something tremendously appreciated by a few. Blount worked as a physical therapist during World War II and wanted to make something that would help veterans returning from the war who were missing an arm be able to feed themselves. She created an electric self-feeding apparatus containing a tube that would deliver individual bites of food to the user’s mouth.
The (Good) Hairbrush
Lyda D. Newman; 1885 – death unknown
Women had ways to brush their hair long before Newman created her tool, but they didn’t have very effective ways to do so. Newman invented the first hairbrush with synthetic bristles. Its bristles were evenly distributed, the barrel had slots for collecting dirt and it had a removable compartment for easy cleaning. Newman was the third Black woman to ever receive a patent.
Multiple Feminine + Bathroom Hygiene Items
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner; 1912-2006
When it comes to items that make feminine and bathroom hygiene a little easier to deal with, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner is a superstar. She invented an adjustable sanitary pad containing a moisture-proof napkin pocket, as well as a toilet paper dispenser that made the untouched end of the roll easy to access. Kenner additionally invented a carrier attachment system for walkers – a great convenience for those who use a walking aid. Due to racial discrimination, Kenner struggled for decades to receive patents.
A Better Ironing Board
Sarah Boone; 1832-1904
Sarah Boone was one of the first African American women to receive a patent. After working some time as a dressmaker in Connecticut, Boone created an ironing board that was better suited than the current options at the time to iron women’s garments. Her board was slightly curved to accommodate the design of female clothing and had a support system that allowed the user to flip a garment over to iron both sides. This enabled the side of the item that had already been ironed to remain smooth while the other side was completed.
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