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Top Ten Black Inventors

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I wanted to post a list of some famous African-American inventors and their patents. There obviously may be some disagreement as to who should, and who should not, make the list of famous African-American inventors. I have tried to include not only those who have contributed to mankind as a whole, but also those African-American inventors we know from other endeavors, or from the fun things they have brought to our lives.

10)Thomas Mensah
Dr. Mensah is the Chairman of Supercond Technology Inc. of Norcross, Georgia. Holder of many United States and International patents covering everything from fiber optics to guided vehicle systems, Dr. Mensah’s work with SMART weapons, like the Patriot missile, were critical to the success of the Gulf War.

Representative Patent
Guided Vehicle System
United States Letters Patent Number 5,035,169

9) Lonnie G. Johnson

President of Johnson Research & Development Co. and formerly with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Lonnie Johnson is a nuclear engineer with over 100 patents. This Tuskegee alumnus has generated over $100 million in sales with his patented SuperSoaker squirt gun. He is currently working on a solar energy cell which promises to cut solar energy costs in half.

Representative Patent
Pinch trigger pump water gun
United States Letters Patent Number 5,074,437

8) Lewis Latimer

Everyone knows Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but few know that it took African American inventor Lewis Latimer to come up with the carbon filament that made it practical. Edison’s original draftsman, Latimer drafted the plans for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. Latimer worked late nights with Bell to file a patent on Bell’s telephone mere hours before the filing of a patent by a rival inventor.

Representative Patent
Electric Lamp
United States Letters Patent Number 247,097

7) Elijah McCoy

Elijah McCoy patented dozens of devices and methods for lubricating machinery. Especially useful were his inventions for lubricating machinery while it was running, including a novel oil dripping cup. While others tried to copy McCoy’s cup, nothing worked as well as the original. That is why, even today, we ask for “the real McCoy”

Representative Patent
United States Letters Patent Number 472,066

6) Dr. Joycelyn Simpson

As a research scientist for NASA’a Langley Research Center, Dr. Simpson invented a new type of high performance piezoelectric polymers. When pressure is applied to these polymers, the polymers generate electricity. Utilizing these polymers in conjunction with wind and water power may lead to an unlimited, low-cost, environmentally friendly source of power.

Representative Patent
Thermally stable piezoelectric polymeric substrates
United States Letters Patent Number 6,379,809

5) Dr. Patricia Bath

Born in Harlem, internationally acclaimed ophthalmologist and surgeon, Dr. Bath has dedicated her life to the prevention and treatment of blindness in African-Americans. Her laser-powered Laserphaco Probe vaporizes and fragments cataracts in minutes.

Representative Patent
Method of removing cataracts
United States Letters Patent Number 6,083,192

4) James Edward West

The research of James Edward West Ph.D. led to the development of the foil-electret transducers used in 90% of today’s microphones. James West holds over 40 patents on microphones and their components and is a 1999 inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 1964, West patented the electret microphone while working at Bell Laboratories.

Representative Patent
Electroacoustic transducer
United States Letters Patent Number 3,118,022

3) Percy Julian

Awarded over 100 patents Percy Julian was most well known for his innovative synthesis of cortisone from soy beans. His inventions significantly reduced the cost of cortisone which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation. Julian is a 1990 inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Representative Patent
Preparation of cortisone
United States Letters Patent Number 2,752,339

2) Mark Dean

Holder of more than 20 patents, Mark Dean, along with Dennis Moeller, created a computer bus system for controlling the use of computer peripherals like disk drives, video monitors, printers, speakers, and scanners. Dean holds three of the original nine IBM patents on the personal computer. IBM granted Dean an IBM Fellowship in 1996 and, a year later, Dean received the Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award. Dean is a 1997 inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Representative Patent
Bus Controls system for computer peripherals
United States Letters Patent Number 4,528,626

1) George Washington Carver

Despite inventing hundreds of novel products and methods for improving agriculture, George Washington Carver, patented only a handful. Born a slave, Carver consistently shunned fortune, taking no money at all for the majority of his inventions, in pursuit of mankind’s greater good. Granted a scholarship in Kansas, the college refused Carver admission when they discovered he was African American. Carver enrolled at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa before enrolling the following year in what is now Iowa State University. Carver Carver is a 1988 inductee into the Iowa Inventor’s Hall of Fame and a 1997 inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame

Representative Patent
Process for Producing Paints and Stains
United States Letters Patent Number 1,632,365

As a patent lawyer, I truly appreciate the gifts these extraordinary inventors have bestowed upon us. I look forward, with great anticipation, to great inventions to come from those inventors able to stand on the shoulders of great African-American inventors that have gone before. If you have a favorite African-American inventor, please leave a comment and let me know.

Brett Trout

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