Revolutionary Inventions from the Black Community

Photo Courtesy of Lemelson-MIT

Janice Luong

Opinions Editor

Outside of recreational trivia, we don’t tend to consider who invented the practical amenities we use daily. You probably know about Thomas Edison and the light bulb. But could you recall any other inventors attributed with the invention of everyday objects? What about the countless inventions that have been pioneered by people of color? We’ve compiled a shortlist of Black inventors to shed light on everyday items and revolutionary inventions that you probably didn’t know were invented by Black people.

Home Security System 

Marie Van Brittan Brown was a nurse and inventor who filed for a patent for this invention in 1966 and was approved three years later. She lived in Queens, New York during the ’50s and ’60s, a time with high crime rates in the city. Her invention was the product of the heightened security risk her neighborhood faced, as well as the necessity to have faster responses to emergencies since she and her husband’s work hours weren’t the standard nine-to-five and emergency response was slower. Her original invention elements were peepholes, the camera, monitors, a two-way microphone, and an alarm button to contact the police immediately. Brown’s invention became the foundation for the more modern home security systems we see today. 

The Three-Light Traffic Light

This was invented by the trailblazer of Black inventors, Garret Morgan. With only elementary school education, he was able to patent many inventions. In 1923, Morgan got his patent approved for the three-light traffic lights. In the 1900s, there was only “stop” and “go,” changing without intervals in between. Imagine that, but add in sharing the road with horses, bikes, other streetcars, and pedestrians! This led to many accidents as drivers didn’t have time to react. So, this invention was inspired by a rather large accident that Morgan witnessed, and the original three-light was T-shaped rather than a line. 

America’s First Clock

Benjamin Banneker was a mathematician, astronomer, land surveyor, and farmer. In 1752, Banneker attracted the public’s attention by creating a clock entirely out of wood. Although different forms of clocks existed, they were uncommon in America, and therefore they were believed to be the first American clocks. Banneker became a renowned American through his accomplishments. 

Automatic Elevator Doors

Alexander Miles was the person who made elevator doors capable of closing and opening at the correct times. In 1884, Miles built a three-story building that became known as the “Miles Block” in Duluth, Minnesota. This was where he became inspired to work on elevator door mechanisms. When riding the elevator within the building, he noticed the risk of the elevator door remaining open during the ride, so he decided to design an automatic closing-open door to file for a patent. What he did was attach a flexible belt to the elevator cage, and when the belt came into contact with the drums on all sides of the elevator, it allowed the elevator door to open and close at appropriate times. Miles was granted a patent in 1887. 

Of course, the list goes on. There are many everyday items we can attribute to Black inventors. In a way, these are cultural inventions that are a testament to how integrated we are in each other’s lives.