Monday, February 6, 2012

The 25 Most Important Black Tech Pioneers from


25. Benjamin Banneker

Notable invention: The U.S. wooden clock

The son of a slave, Banneker developed a fascination for repairing watches by taking them apart and studying their components. After mastering his craft he would go on to build America's first-ever wooden clock using carved wooden pieces. The clock worked for more than 40 years. Banneker banked on his nationwide exposure and started up his own watch and clock repair business. They don't make them like they use to.

24. Ronald S. Demon (1977–present)

Notable invention: The Smart Shoe

Inventor and CEO of VectraSense Technologies patented a sports shoe geared towards athletes and nicknamed it the "Smart Shoe". This high-tech footwear sensed a person's movement and automatically adjusted cushions in the shoe to provide better comfort. Nike's either going to buy this technology or build a better version.

Notable invention: The Power Drencher a.k.a. the Super Soaker

The Super Soaker wasn't exactly what we would call groundbreaking, but it was definitely one of the most innovative novelties created during the early 1990s. Lonnie Johnson’s plastic water cannon had kids and grown-ups drenching each other silly with H20 on every front lawn and playground across the nation, raking in more than 1 billion in sales and cementing its place in pop culture as one of the most beloved toys of our generation.

22. Benjamin Bradley (1830–unknown)

Notable invention: Warship steam engine

Having worked at the Annapolis Naval Academy, Bradley performed scientific experiments and was credited for building a steam engine at the age of 16. It was made entirely from scrap metal and used on warships to help travel faster at sea. Though he wasn’t able to patent his work, he sold his idea in exchange for his freedom.

21. Norbert Rillieux (1806-1894)

Notable invention: Multiple-effect evaporator

This American engineer revolutionized the sugar industry with the multiple-effect evaporator, a device that produced high-quality sugar and reduced production costs by using steam efficiently to evaporate water and prevetn sugar from burning or being discolored. After patenting his creation in 1843, sugar manufacturers from Cuba to Egypt requested Rillieux’s machine. It’s still used today to make glue, soap, milk, and other products. Sweet.

20. Andrew Jackson Beard (1849 – 1921)

Notable invention: The Jenny Coupler

Before the Jenny Coupler, railroad cars were manually joined together. As one of the many railroad workers who lost a limb (his leg) in a coupling accident, Beard saved many lives with his invention, which automatically locked two car-bumps together. He patented the device in 1897, the same year Congress created the Federal Safety Appliance Act, a law that made it illegal to operate railroad cars without automatic couplers. Not bad for a man with little to no education in engineering.

19. Lewis Howard Latimer (1848–1928)

Notable invention: Water closet

Before serving as Thomas Edison's original draftsman and sketching invention plans for Alexander Graham Bell, Latimer was best known for improving the railroad toilet system with the water closet. For those brand new to 18th and 19th century jargon, it's a flush toilet. He would also create a method to make carbon filaments for the electric lamp and become the only African American member of the engineering division at the Edison Company. Makes you wonder if Edison stole borrowed any ideas from him.

18. Meredith Gourdine (1929–1998)

Notable inventions: The Incineraid system, Focus Flow Heat Sink, and industrial paint spray

Gourdine has been praised as a pioneer researcher and for creating electrogasdynamics—the generation of electrical energy from the conversion of the kinetic energy contained in a high-pressure, ionized, moving combustion gas. His most popular creation, the Incineraid system, was used to banish smoke from burning buildings and fog from airport runways. Adding to his legacy, he would also create the Focus Flow Heat Sink, a device that cooled down computer chips.

17. Jan Ernst Matzeliger (1852 – 1889)

Notable invention: The shoe-lasting machine

Half Dutch, half Surinamese, Matzeliger crafted a machine to help expedite the final step of shoemaking—connecting the leather from the upper shoe to the inner sole. The device helped ensure better quality and fit, and increased shoemaking speed by up to 900 percent. Remember him the next timey you throw down over $300 on a pair of kicks.

16. Garrett Morgan (1877–1963)

Notable inventions: Three-way traffic signal, hair straightener

After witnessing a traffic collision, Morgan decided to build a non-electric three-way traffic signal that featured Stop, Go, and all-directional stop positions. He would create another safety-inspired device, the gas mask, which he used to save 32 men trapped during an explosion in an underground tunnel in Lake Erie. The man even invented the first human-hair straighetner and sold it under the name G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream.

15. Granville T. Woods (1856–1910)

Notable inventions: Telegraphony, trolley conducting system, third brake, and improved air brake

The self-taught inventor managed to combine the telephone and telegraph to form the telegraphony, a system used to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire. His other most notable invention was a detection system that informed train engineers of how close their trains were to collision. He also received credit from a few historians for inventing the third rail, which Thomas Edison was awarded a patent for 10 years earlier in 1882. Now we know why they referred to him as the “Black Edison.”

14. David N. Crosthwait, Jr. (1898-1976)

Notable inventions: Heating systems for huge buildings, vacuum pump, automobile turn signal, and thermostat control

An expert in central air conditioning and heat ventilation systems, Crosthwait took his knowledge of electrical engineering and built everything from vacuum pumps to temperature regulating devices. He would go on to accomplish one of the biggest feats of any 20th century inventor—creating the heating systems for Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. Someone was in an empire state of mind.

13. Roscoe L. Koontz (1922–present)

Notable inventions: Collimator and pinhole gamma ray camera

This health physics specialist created the collimator, a device used to align two or more devices and set toward at a proper focus. He also designed radiation activity measuring devices and automatic air and water sampling equipment.

12. Frederick McKinley Jones (1892–1961)

Notable inventions: Automatic refrigerator system, military air-conditioning unit, self-start gas engine, and movie projector devices

Jones designed portable cooling units for trucks, trains, ships, and aircrafts to help store and keep products chilled. His invention would play a vital role during World War II, where army hospitals and battlefield infantries preserved blood, food, and medicine in these small-scaled refrigerators. With over 61 patents under his belt, he was definitely a jack-of-all-trades inventor.

11. Alexander Miles (1838 – 1905)

Notable invention: Automated elevator door system

During a time when many people died falling down elevator shafts, Alexander Miles made significant upgrades to the electric lift by introducing automated doors and improving the open/close mechanism for elevator shafts. Miles would go on to create an insurance agency devoted to serving blacks who were discriminated upon and would be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007. Thanks for saving us the walk-up.

10. Otis Boykin (1920-1982)

Notable inventions: Electrical resistor, variable resistor, control unit for heart stimulators, burglar-proof cash register, and chemical air filter

Inventor of over 25 electronic devices, Boykin’s biggest contribution to the tech field would be the control unit for the artificial heart pacemaker, which used electrical impulses to maintain a steady heartbeat rate. Other big accomplishments would include the creation of the variable resistor (used in guided missiles) and the improved electrical resistor used in computers, radios, and TVs.

9. Henry Blair (1807–1860)

Notable inventions: Seed planter and cotton planter

Very little is known about Henry Blair’s background, but we do know that he invented the seed planter, a machine that allowed farmers to plant corn faster with less work. It’s also been documented that he was the second black inventor to ever be rewarded a patent for his work and was the only inventor to be identified as “a colored man” according to Patent Office records. Blair signed each patent by marking an “x” as his signature because he couldn’t write.

8. Richard Spikes (1884–1962)

Notable inventions: Railroad semaphore, multiple barrel machine gun, beer-keg tap, self-locking rack for billiard cues, automobile directional signals, automatic gear shift, and automatic car washer

Is there anything this guy didn't invent? The San Francisco native is most famous for developing a turn signal system for vehicles, but was never awarded a patent for it. Percy Douglas-Hamilton was bestowed the honor in 1907. Spikes might of gotten the better end of the stick, as his transmission and gear-shifting designs helped him score over $100,000 during the 1930s. Dedicated to his work, Spikes worked on the automatic safety brake until he went blind and died in 1962.

7. Elijah McCoy (1844–1929)

Notable invention: Lubricating cup

Having worked as an oilman on a steam engine locomotive, McCoy combined his education and work experience to create a lubrication system that greased up engines and machines without having to shut them down. This would help reduce transportation times for all steam engine-based trains. As the story goes, his invention was so good, railroad engineers, trying to avoid shotty products, would ask if locomotives were outfitted with "the real McCoy". In addition to the lubricating cup, McCoy also held 57 patents.

6. John Henry Thompson (1959-present)

Notable inventions: Lingo programming and XObjects

Known as the “Father of Lingo Programming", Thompson developed the popular scripting language to help render visuals in computer programs. Lingo’s also been used to create flash and shockwave programs found in animation, web design, and video games. Programmers might recognize the object-oriented programming language embedded into Macromedia Director and other popular Adobe programs. Adobe-philes owe this man a great gratitude of respect.

5. Kenneth J. Dunkley (Unknown)

Notable inventions: 3D glasses

Who ever guessed the inventor of 3D glasses was a black man? We didn’t. Dunkley’s technique of blocking two points of a person’s peripheral vision resulted in people viewing images in the third-dimension. He would also be a recognized as a staple in holography—the process of making holograms. This man was so ahead of his time.

4. Henry Sampson (1934-present)

Notable inventions: Gamma-electric cell, binder system, and case-bounding system for propellants

Sampson’s gamma-electrical cell made it possible to wirelessly send and receive audio signals through radio waves. The nuclear physicist bears patents for inventions related to solid rocket motors as well. His accomplishments served as a vital component to the growth of cellular phone usage. Somebody send this man a text to show him we appreciate is work.

3. George R. Carruthers (1939–present)

Notable inventions: Image converter, ultraviolet camera, and spectrograph

South Side, Chicago native and ultraviolet astronomy pioneer George Carruthers began showing signs of greatness at the age of 10, when he crafted his own telescope for a school science fair. Fast forward to 1972, his spectrograph invention would be used in the Apollo 16 mission to record radiation from the upper half of the ultraviolet spectrum on the Moon. The camera would also produce over 200 photos of the Earth’s outer atmosphere and other deep-space objects like nebulas and comets. Astronomical.

2. James Edward West (1931 - Present)

Notable invention: Electroacoustic Transducer Electret Microphone

Looking to improve the microphone, James West built a more compact and cost efficient version of the mic by placing polymer electret film on one side, resulting in the conversion of sound into high fidelity electrical signals. His invention has been used across the world and can be found in most telephones and tape recorders till this day. West carries over 200 foreign and 47 U.S. patents based around microphones and techniques involving the making of polymer foil-electrets. He now puts in work at John Hopkins University as a research professor.

1. Mark Dean (1957–present)

Notable inventions: ISA systems bus and 1GHz RISC processor chip

Tennessee-bred engineer, Mark Dean, designed the Industry Standard Architecture systems bus, a component that enables several machines like printers and modems to connect with a computer. Dean didn't stop there. He would also lead the design team behind the creation of the 1GHz RISC processor chip. Having occupied several big positions at IBM, he would become the first ever African-American to join IBM Fellow, which is the highest honor any scientist, engineer, or programmer can achieve at the company.


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