Twelve things you didn’t know Black people invented from gas masks to traffic lights
Black History Month in the United Kingdom is an annual celebration that lasts throughout October, and ShowAfrica has compiled a short list of some of the everyday items invented by Black people.
Can you imagine a world without stop signs? Or one in which you can’t lock your front door? But, thanks to the ingenuity and creativity of some of the people mentioned below, that could have been the case.
As Black History Month comes to an end in the United Kingdom, ShowAfrica celebrates the outstanding achievements and contributions of black African Caribbean people around the world.
And today we look at some of the everyday items found in homes around the world that were invented by Black people as early as the nineteenth century.
In some cases, inventors failed to patent their inventions, allowing others to step in and claim them as their own.
Here are some of the 11 everyday items invented by Black inventors.
Charles Richard Drew, an African American surgeon and medical researcher, is credited for his pioneering work with blood storage and transfusions.
At the beginning of World War II, he was the brains behind large-scale blood banks that saved the lives of thousands of soldiers.
He used mobile trucks with refrigerators to transport blood where it was needed.
He also made sure all blood plasma was tested before it was shipped out and only skilled people could carry out transfusions to avoid cross-contamination.
Madam C.J. Walker became the richest African American woman of her time thanks to her work with hair inventions.
Born into poverty, the entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist invented a comb that would straighten curly hair.
She created a line of hair products that made her wealthy and recognised before she died in 1919.
Straightening combs have since evolved into what are now known as hair straighteners.
It’s a staple in most kitchens and a must-have for pastry chefs thanks to John W Reed, who invented the rolling pin.
Late in the nineteenth century, he patented the rolling pin as we know it today which has two handles connected to a centre rod.
He realised by designing it this way meant pastry could be successfully rolled out without cooks putting their hands on the rolling surface.
Mr Reed also adapted more updated versions of a dough kneader.
African American Garrett Morgan patented the three-position traffic light system in 1923 which is still being used today.
The son of two slaves noticed the traffic signals being used at the time had red for stop and green for go with no interval in between.
He is said to have got to work after he noticed an accident at a problematic intersection and created the three-signal system which includes an amber light.
He later sold the rights to his invention to General Electric for $40,000.
Garrett Morgan is also the brains behind a smoke hood which later became a gas mask.
The hood he patented in 1912 was a clear airtight bag placed over the head which has an air filter held in the mouth that the wearer used to breathe.
His invention was used in a tunnel construction disaster rescue in Cleveland which took place in 1916.
The smoke hood became the prototype and precursor for the gas masks used during World War I.
Thomas W. Stewart patented a new type of mop in 1893 that made cleaning floors much easier.
His clamping device could wring water out of a mop by using a lever.
He first designed a mop head that could be removed by unscrewing it from the base of the handle and replacing it with a new one.
Then he created a lever attached to the mop head which would wring water from the head without the user getting their hands wet.
It’s difficult to think of a world without a door knob but before Osbourn Dorsey patented the creation we use today people used a different method.
Only the wealthy were able to lock their doors, and until the African American inventor thought up the idea used today most had a latch-string device to keep their doors closed.
He also created the doorstop and applied for a patent for both inventions in December 1878.
He was just 16 when his idea literally changed the world.
John Thomas White received a patent for a better way of squeezing lemons in 1896.
His invention allows us to obtain citrus juice while keeping our hands clean.
The earliest method of squeezing lemons dates back to the 1700s.
But the method we use today was created by an African American inventor.
Fire sprinkler system
Thomas J Marshall is credited with inventing the sprinkler system used in large buildings and businesses to effectively put out fires.
In 1872 he patented his idea which enables water to be pumped through pipes throughout the building.
It came into use in the US two years later.
Since 2007, new buildings constructed in England taller than 30 metres must have a sprinkler system fitted.
Ice cream scoop
Businessman Alfred L. Cralle invented the ice cream scoop.
In 1896 he applied for a patent on his invention which was a built-in scraper that allowed ice cream to be scooped with one hand.
His creation was originally called the Ice Cream Mold and Disher and was designed to keep ice cream and other foods from sticking.
He claimed to have come up with the idea after he noticed ice cream servers were struggling to put large chunks onto a cone.
There are many more inventions that were created by black people – this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Frederick McKinley Jones co-founded Thermo King and is credited for his innovations in refrigeration.
The award-winning African American inventor and entrepreneur designed a portable air-cooling unit for trucks carrying perishable food in 1938 and patented it two years later.
He is self-taught in mechanical and electrical engineering.
Mr Jones received more than 60 patents for refrigeration technologies and other advances including X-ray machines, engines and sound equipment during his career.
The Dough Kneader
Judy W. Reed, one of the first recorded African American women to receive a U.S. patent (No. 305,474), is known for her invention titled “Dough Kneader and Roller”.
The invention improved upon existing dough kneaders and rollers and included a box for receiving dough and a crank that causes the dough to be drawn between corrugated rollers.
Little is known about Reed beyond the corners of her patent but she has garnered the title of being the first African-American woman to receive a U.S. patent.