African American Inventors Black History Month for Kids

African-Americans have created  some of the world’s most important inventions.  Below are a list of some African-Americans who inventions have changed the world.

Garrett A. Morgan – Inventions-hair straighten cream, Gas Mask, 3 position traffic light

Garrett Morgan was born to former slaves on March 4th 1877 in Paris Kentucky.  Like many African-Americans at that time, Morgan had to quit school at a young age in order to work so at age 14 he moved to Cincinnati Ohio to search for employment. During his teenage years he worked for as a handy man for a wealthy landowner.  He was able to hire his own tutor and continued with his studies.  In 1895 he moved to Cleveland Ohio where he worked on repairing sewing machines.

In 1907 Morgan opened a sewing machine and shoe repair shop.  It was the first of several businesses he would own.  In 1909 he expanded his business to include a tailoring shop.  He made coats, dresses, suits and other clothing.  Morgan experimented with a liquid that gave sewing machines needles a high polish and prevented the needle from scorching fabric as it sewed.  Accidentally he discovered that, that same liquid straightened hair.  He turned the liquid into a cream and began the G.A Morgan Hair Refining Company.

In 1912, Morgan invented and received a patent on a Safety Hood and Smoke Protector today known as a gas mask.  On July 15, 1916, Morgan made national news for using his gas mask to rescue several men trapped during an explosion in an underground tunnel beneath Lake Erie. After the rescue, Morgan’s company received requests from fire departments around the country that wished to purchase the new life-saving masks. The masks were also used during World War I.

Morgan was also known for his invention of the 3 position traffic light.  He received a patent on November 20, 1923. Morgan’s traffic signal was a T-shaped pole unit that featured three positions: Stop, Go and an all-directional stop position. Morgan’s traffic management technology was used throughout North America until it was replaced by the red, yellow and green-light traffic signals currently used around the world. The inventor eventually sold the rights to his traffic signal to the General Electric Corporation for $40,000, shortly before his death in 1963.

 

Madam C.J Walker – Cosmetics, Entrepreneur first Female African American Millionaire 

Madam C.J Walker was an inventor, entrepreneur and first female African American millionaire.  She was born Sarah Breedlove on 12/23/1867 in Delta Louisiana.

Most Americans at that time did not have indoor plumbing, central heating and electricity.  Causing them to bath and wash their hair infrequently.  As a result many people suffered scalp disease causing hair loss. Walker herself was losing her hair.  She experimented with home remedies to create a healthier scalp.  She developed Vegetable Shampoo, Wonderful Hair Grower, Vanishing Cream and other beauty products for black women.  Her products caught on.  Walker’s beauty products were sold to many women across the country.

Madam C.J Walker used her success to help other African-Americans.  She founded scholarships for black students, donated money to different African-American institutions.  Walker also lobbied politicians for civil rights.

Walker wanted African-American women to get ahead and have careers where they can make a decent living.  She opened a school called the Walker College of Hair Culture were women were trained to style hair, sell Walker’s products, even given the opportunity to open their own beauty salons. “I am not satisfied in making money for myself,” she told a 1914 convention of the National Negro Business League. “I endeavor to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race.”

Madam C.J Walker spent her life empowering African-American Women.  She died in 1919.  Her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, became the president of the C.J Walker Manufacturing Company.

George Washington Carver Invented over 300 uses for peanuts

George Washington Carver was born in Missouri on the Moses Carver plantation in 18. His parents were slaves. When he was 12 years old, he left home to attend a black school. There was only one teacher with 75 children in a small room. While other children played at recess, he studied. He studied at home before and after he did his chores. When he was 30 years old, he was accepted at a college in Iowa and later transferred to Iowa State Agricultural College where he received a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Science in 1894 and a Master’s of Science degree in 1896.

Carver started studying diseases which were attacking the farmers’ crops most farmers in the deep south were only growing cotton.  The soil started to suffer and the crop weren’t as healthy.  Carver urged the farmers to grow peanuts and sweet potatoes as he found they would restore the soil.  Farmers were worried that they would not make as much money growing these items.  Carver started experimenting with the products.  He discovered over 300 products that can be made with peanuts. Some include: flour, ink, dyes, plastics, wood stains, soap, cosmetics and peanut butter. From sweet potatoes, he made 118 products some include flour, candy, vinegar, rubber and postage stamp glue. He made 75 products from pecans and even made a building material for walls from cotton stalks.

George Washington Carver died in 1943.  He received many awards and honors on his agricultural contributions in history.

 

Jan Ernst Matzeliger– Invented a machine to make shoes faster

Jan was born September 15, 1852 in South America.  His father was white and his mother was black.  As a child Jan worked in his father’s shop where they made metal tools, ornaments and containers.  Jan learned how to use a lathe machine that cut and shaped metal.

Jan always dreamed of becoming a seaman.  At the age of 19 he set sail.  He landed in Philadelphia in 1873.  He was hired as a shoemaker.  There he learned how to use the McKay Machine which sewed leather to make soles of shoes.  He wanted to learn more about shoemaking so he moved to Massachusetts where a lot of shoe companies were located.

Working for the shoe companies Jan learned that the hardest part of shoemaking was the lasting step. The leather had to be stretched over a wooden model of a foot called a last.  Then the finished shape had to be tacked into place by hand. There was no machine to help with this step.  Jan decided that he was going to invent a machine.  Many people laughed at him saying that many people have tried but it was impossible to create such a machine but Jan never gave up.

By 1880 Jan made a model of his machine from cigar boxes.  He knew that if he had a real machine it would work.  By 1882 Jan made a model out of scrap metal and it lasted shoes perfectly.  Two business men liked his machine and gave him money to make his machine from good metal in return they would receive two-thirds of any money Jan may make.  The three men formed the Union Lasting Machine Company.

Jan’s invention could make 300 – 500 shoes in a 10 hour work day.  Before his machine only 50 shoes could be made in that same time. Prior to Jan’s invention many people did not own shoes. They were expensive because they took so long to make.  Jan’s invention had changed the shoe industry and made shoes available to all people. Jan died in 1889 at the age of 36.

Daniel Hale Williams– First doctor to successfully perform open heart surgery, helped open first non-segregated hospital in the US, Opened first nursing school for african american women

Daniel Hale Williams was born on January 18, 1858 in Hollidayburg Pennsylvania.  He graduated from Chicago Medical College in 1883 at the age of 27.

He opened up a doctor’s office in Chicago and treated people in the neighborhood.  At that time African-Americans weren’t able to work in hospitals so he operated on his patients in their homes.  Often times when doctors performed surgeries in homes they were unsuccessful.  Many patients got infections from bacteria and died.  Daniel Hale Williams knew that bacteria caused infections from going to school.  Before he would operate on his patients he made sure everything was cleaned so his patients would not get infections.

Daniel Hale Williams did not like the fact that African-American doctors could not work in hospitals and many African-Americans weren’t a lot to get treatment at hospitals so he help open Provident Hospital on January 23 1891.  It was the first non-segregated hospital in the US. It was also the first training school for African-American nurses. The hospital was opened to treat and hire people of all races.

On July 9th 1893 James Cornish was stabbed in a fight.  Daniel Hale Williams opened up his chest and stitched the wound in the pericardium which is the sac surrounding the heart.  James Cornish survived.  This known as the first successful open heart surgery. If Daniel Hale Williams did not perform the surgery James Cornish probably would have died.

The news of Daniel Hale Williams performing the surgery spread quickly.  He was asked to be the Chief Surgeon of Freedman’s hospital, a hospital that opened after the civil war to treat African-Americans. The hospital was poorly run, there were no nurses and the building needed a lot of repairs. Daniel Hale Williams took the job and became director of Freeman Hospital in February 1894.  He organized the entire hospital.  He hired staff and made repairs.  As a result their was a decrease in patient deaths.

Daniel Hale Williams eventually went back to being the Chief Surgeon at Provident Hospital and Mercy Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital.  He died on August 4,1931.

Charles Drew-Invented the Blood Bank

Charles Drew was born on June 3, 1904 in Washington D.C.  In 1928 he moved to Canada and enrolled in McGill University in Montreal.  He graduated in 1933 with degrees in Master of Surgery and Doctor of Medicine.  In 1935 Charles Drew moved back to the United States and worked at Howard University as a professor of Pathology.  While working at the university he was also a resident doctor at Freedman Hospital.

Later enrolled in Columbia University in New York and began doing research on blood and blood transfusions.  While at Columbia University he wrote about “banked blood” in his writings he developed a way to preserve blood plasma so blood can be stored for long periods of time.  He discovered that by separating the plasma from the blood and then refrigerating the blood and the plasma separately they could be combined up to a week later for a blood transfusion.  He also found out that even though people may have  different blood types everyone has the same plasma.  This was an important discovery because in cases where a full blood transfusion was not needed a plasma transfusion can be given to anyone no matter the blood type.

Before Charles Drew’s important discovery blood could only be kept for  1-2 days.  Often times blood was not available to complete blood transfusions . People often died when they lost a lot of blood because blood was not always available. This discovery saved many people’s lives.

Charles Drew died on April 1st 1950 from injuries in a car accident.