The most prolific inventor
was agricultural chemist George Washington Carver. He was born to
slave parents on a farm in Diamond Grove, Mo., (near Joplin)
sometime between 1860 and 1864; the exact year is not known because
accurate records of slave families were not always kept.
Carver invented more than 300 uses for peanuts and hundreds of
additional uses for other plants. Some of the products resulting
from Carver's work are adhesives, axle grease, bleach, buttermilk,
chili sauce, ink, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonnaise, meat
tenderizer, metal polish, paper, plastic, pavement, shaving cream,
shoe polish, synthetic rubber and talcum powder. Carver later became
director of the Department of Agricultural Research at Tuskegee
University when he was just 36 years old.
Sounds like George Washington Carver was the real McCoy among
No, that would be Elijah McCoy, a Canadian inventor born in 1844
in Colchester, Ontario, Canada, to former slaves. McCoy's automatic
oiling cup for trains became known as "The Real McCoy" when
engineers began asking for it by name.
There was probably no inventor who surrounded himself with better
company than Lewis Latimer did. Latimer (1848-1928) of Chelsea,
Mass., was the only inventor who worked with both Alexander Graham
Bell and Thomas Edison. First he helped Bell draft his blueprints
for the telephone; then he and a co-worker created the carbon
filament for Edison's electric light bulb. This replaced Edison's
bamboo filament that lasted only 30 hours and shattered when it got
The gas mask that Garrett Morgan invented saved the lives of
thousands of soldiers in World War I. Morgan (1877-1963) of Paris,
Ky., even used one of his gas masks to help rescue men trapped by a
gas explosion in a tunnel that was being built under Lake Erie.
Morgan also invented the first automatic traffic signal.
[to top of second column]
The first black woman to become a millionaire was Sarah Breedlove Walker,
aka Madame C.J. Walker (1867-1919) of Delta, La. Perhaps no one
faced more harsh obstacles than Madame Walker. An orphan at age 6 and a
widow at age 20, she faced racial discrimination as well as gender
Madame Walker created a new hair process with the aid of the
straightening comb that she invented and patented in 1905. She
developed a line of cosmetics for black women and built a business
empire in which she employed more than 3,000 people. She later
shared her wealth with many black charities.
So who invented Black History Month? And why was February chosen
as the month to celebrate it?
Dr. Carter Woodson (1875-1950), born in New Canton, Va., led a
group of black and white scholars in establishing "Negro History
Week" in Chicago in 1926. Woodson chose a week in February because
it's the month in which two people who had a huge impact on the
lives of black Americans were born -- Abraham Lincoln and
abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
The group that Woodson founded, the
Association for the Study of African
American Life and History, expanded Negro History Week into
Black History Month in 1976 as part of the nation's bicentennial
Even though the Civil War had ended, slavery left many of these
inventors poor, and blacks were not welcome in many parts of
America. The fact that they had little -- if any -- schooling makes
their achievements even more incredible.
Paul Niemann may be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2007
(Text copied from file received
from Paul Niemann)