List of African-American inventors and scientists
|Science and technology
in the United States
|NASA spin-off technologies|
|Native American contributions|
|Puerto Rican scientists and inventors|
|Technological and industrial history|
|Inventions by date|
This list of African-American inventors and scientists attempts to document many of the African Americans who have invented a multitude of items or made discoveries in the course of their lives. These have ranged from practical everyday devices to applications and scientific discoveries in diverse fields, including physics, biology, mathematics, plus the medical, nuclear and space sciences.
Among the earliest was George Washington Carver, whose reputation was based on his research into and promotion of alternative crops to cotton, which aided in nutrition for farm families. He wanted poor farmers to grow alternative crops both as a source of their own food and as a source of other products to improve their quality of life. The most popular of his 44 practical bulletins for farmers contained 105 food recipes using peanuts. He also developed and promoted about 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house and farm. He received numerous honors for his work, including the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP.
A later renowned scientist was Percy Lavon Julian a research chemist and a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He was the first to synthesize the natural product physostigmine, and a pioneer in the industrial large-scale chemical synthesis of the human hormones, steroids, progesterone, and testosterone, from plant sterols such as stigmasterol and sitosterol. His work would lay the foundation for the steroid drug industry's production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and birth control pills.
A contemporary example of a modern day inventor is Lonnie George Johnson, an engineer. Johnson invented the Super Soaker water gun, which was the top-selling toy in the United States in 1991 and 1992. In 1980 Johnson formed his own law firm and licensed the Super Soaker water gun to Larami Corporation. Two years later the Super Soaker generated over $200 million in retail sales and became the best selling toy in America. Larami Corporation was eventually purchased by Hasbro, the second largest toy manufacturer in the world. Over the years, Super Soaker sales have totaled close to one billion dollars. Johnson reinvested a majority of his earnings from the Super Soaker into research and development for his energy technology companies – "It's who I am, it's what I do." Currently, Johnson holds over 80 patents, with over 20 more pending, and is the author of several publications on spacecraft power systems.
Inventors and scientists
- Note: this table is viewable as a timeline when clicking on the sort symbol next to 'Life'.
|Amos, Harold||1918–2003||Microbiologist||First African-American department chair at Harvard Medical School|||
|Alcorn, George Edward, Jr.||1940–||Physicist
|Invented a method of fabricating an imaging X-ray spectrometer|||
|Andrews, James J.||1930–1998||Mathematician||Put forth the Andrews–Curtis conjecture in group theory with Morton L. Curtis, still unsolved|||
|Bailey, L.C.||1890–1976||Inventor||Wind Powered Clothes Dryer.|||
|Ball, Alice Augusta||1892–1916||Chemist||Extracted chaulmoogra oil for the treatment of Hansen's disease (leprosy).|||
|Wooden clock (1753). Assisted in survey of the original boundaries of the District of Columbia (1791). Authored almanac and ephemeris (1792–1797)|||
|Banyaga, Augustin||1947–||Mathematician||Work on diffeomorphisms and symplectomorphisms|||
|First African-American woman to receive a patent for a web-based software invention. The invention, LinkLine, is an Equal Employment Opportunity case management and tracking software.|||
|Bath, Patricia||1942–||Ophthalmologist||First African-American female physician to receive a patent for a medical invention. Inventions relate to cataract surgery and include the Laserphaco Probe, which revolutionized the industry in the 1980s, and an ultrasound technique for treatment.|||
|Janney coupler improvements
|Bell, Earl S.||1977–||Inventor
|Invented Chair With Sliding Skin (2004), and the Quantitative Display Apparatus (2005)|||
|Invented "Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels". Second African-American woman to receive a patent.|||
|Berry, Leonidas||1902–1995||Gastroenterologist||Gastroscope pioneer|||
|Bharucha-Reid, Albert T.||1927–1985||Mathematician
|Probability theory and Markov chain theorist|||
|Black, Keith||1957–||Neurosurgeon||Brain tumor surgery and research|||
|First proposed the Blackwell channel model used in coding theory and information theory; one of the eponyms of the Rao–Blackwell theorem, which is a process that significantly improves crude statistical estimators.|||
|Blair, Henry||1807–1860||Inventor||Second black inventor to issue a patent
Invented early spark plug
|Boahen, Kwabena||19xx–||Bioengineer||Silicon retina able to process images in the same manner as a living retina|||
||Inventor||Ironing board allowing sleeves of women's garments to be ironed more easily|||
|Bouchet, Edward||1852–1918||Physicist||First African-American to receive a Ph.D. in any subject. Received physics doctorate from Yale University in 1876.|
|Bowman, James||1923–2011||Physician||Pathologist and geneticist; Professor Emeritus Pritzker School of Medicine; first tenured African-American professor at the University of Chicago Division of Biological Sciences.|||
|Artificial heart pacemaker control unit.|||
|Brady, St. Elmo||1884–1966||Chemist||Published three scholarly abstracts in Science and also collaborated on a paper published in Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry.|||
|Protein structure research|||
|Brooks, Charles||1865– ?||Inventor||Street sweeper truck and a type of paper punch|
|Brooks, Phil||19xx–||Inventor||First U.S. Patent for a disposable syringe|
|Henry Brown||1832– ?||Inventor||Invented fire safe|||
|Burr, John Albert||18xx– ?||Inventor||Rotary-blade lawn mower patent|||
|Cardozo, P. William||1905–1962||Pediatrician||Sickle cell anemia studies. In October 1937, he published "Immunologic Studies in Sickle Cell Anemia" in the Archives of Internal Medicine; many of the findings are still valid today.|
|Carson, Ben||1951–||Pediatric Neurosurgeon||Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University
First surgeon to successfully separate craniopagus twins
|Carver, George Washington||1865–1943||Botanical researcher||Discovered hundreds of uses for previously useless vegetables and fruits, principally the peanut|||
|Chappelle, Emmett||1925–||Scientist and researcher||Valuable contributions to several fields: medicine, biology, food science, and astrochemistry|
|Clark, Mamie||1914–2005||Psychologist||Conducted 1940s experiments using dolls to study children's attitudes about race.|
|Clark, Kenneth||1917–1983||Psychologist||First Black president of the American Psychological Association|||
|Crosthwait, David, Jr.||1898–1976||Research engineer||Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.
Received some 40 U.S. patents relating to HVAC systems.
|Dabiri, John||1980-||Biophysicist||Expert on jellyfish hydrodynamics and designer of a vertical-axis wind farm adapted from schooling fish.|
|Daly, Marie Maynard||1921–2003||Chemist||First black American woman with a Ph.D. in chemistry.|
|Dean, Mark||1957–||Computer scientist||Led the team that developed the ISA bus, and led the design team responsible for creating the first one-gigahertz computer processor chip.|||
|Drew, Charles||1904–1950||Medical researcher||Developed improved techniques for blood storage|
|Du Chaillu, Paul||1831–1903||Zoologist
|Explorer who was the first modern European outsider to confirm the existence of gorillas, and later the Pygmy people of central Africa. Identified as white throughout life, but his mother was a Réunionnais mulatto. Settled in America and considered it his country by adoption. The full aspects of his ancestry were not uncovered until 1979, and are still little known today.|
|Easley, Annie||1933–||Computer scientist||Work at the Lewis Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics|||
|Ejeta, Gebisa||1950-||Geneticist||Won the World Food Prize in 2009 for his major contributions in the production of sorghum.|
|Ejigu, Kitaw||1948–2006||Systems engineer||Worked for NASA as a system engineer and space research scientist||[dead link]|
|Ellis, Skip (Clarence)||1943–||Computer scientist||First African American with a Ph.D. in Computer Science
Software inventor including OfficeTalk at Xerox PARC
|Ezerioha, Bisi||1972–||Automotive engineer||Drag racing engineer and driver|
|Ferguson, Lloyd Noel||1918–2011||Chemist
|Chemistry doctorate, first received (1943, University of California, Berkeley)|||
|Fryer, Roland G., Jr.||1977–||Economist
|Gates, Sylvester James||1950–||Theoretical physicist||Work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory|||
|Goode, Sarah E.||1855–1905||Inventor||Cabinet bed invention
First African-American woman to receive a patent in the United States
|Gilbert, Juan E.||1969–||Computer scientist||Awarded the first Presidential Endowed Chair at Clemson University in honor of his accomplishments|
|Graves, Joseph L.||1955–||Evolutionary biologist|||
|Greenaugh, Kevin||1956–||Nuclear engineer|||
|Griffin, Bessie Blount||1914–2009||Physical therapist
|Amputee self-feeding device|||
|Haile, Sossina M.||1966-||Engineer||Work on fuel cells|
|Haile-Selassie, Yohannes||1961-||Paleoanthropologist||Codiscoverer of the Australopithecus garhi and Ardipithecus kadabba species, as well as the Ardi and Kadanuumuu remains. One of the world's foremost authorities on early hominins. Immigrant from Ethiopia.|
|Harris, James A.||1932–2000||Co-discovered Rutherfordium (element 104) and Hafnium (element 105) at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory|||
|Hawkins, Walter Lincoln||1911–1992||Scientist||Inventor at Bell Laboratories|||
|Hodge, John E.||1914–1996||Chemist|
|Holley, Kerrie||1954–||Research computer scientist at IBM||Co-creator of Service-Oriented Modeling and Architecture, SOMA and the Service Integration Maturity Model (SIMM)|
|Jarvis, Erich||19xx–||Neurobiologist||Duke University neuroscience bird songs studies.|||
|Johnson, Isaac||18xx– ?||Inventor||Held patent for improvements to the bicycle frame, specifically so it could be taken apart for compact storage.|||
|Johnson, Lonnie||1949–||Mechanical engineerNuclear engineer
|Invented Super Soaker while researching thermal energy transfer engines; worked with NASA. Holder of over 80 patents||
|Jones, Frederick McKinley||1893–1961||Inventor||Invented refrigerated truck systems|||
|Julian, Percy||1899–1975||Chemist||First to synthesize the natural product physostigmine; earned 130 chemical patents; lauded for humanitarian achievements.|||
|Just, Ernest||1883–1941||Woods Hole Marine Biology Institute Biologist||Provided basic and initial descriptions of the structure–function–property relationship of the plasma membrane of biological cells.|||
|Kittles, Rick||1967–||Geneticist||Work in tracing the ancestry of African Americans via DNA testing|||
|Kountz, Samuel L.||1930–1981||Transplant surgeon
|Organ transplantation pioneer, particularly renal transplant research and surgery.
Author or co-author of 172 articles in scientific publications.
|Worked as a draftsman for both Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. He became a member of Edison's Pioneers and served as an expert witness in many light bulb litigation lawsuits.|||
|Lawson, Jerry||1940–2011||Computer engineer||Designer of Fairchild Channel F, the first programmable ROM cartridge-based video game console|||
Biomedical engineer
|Paul and Aileen Russell Professor, Pritzker School of Medicine; MacArthur Fellow, Searle Scholar, Founder and Chairman, Avocet Polymer Technologies, Inc.; Founder and Chairman, Renacyte BioMolecular Technologies, Inc; Discovered use of surfactant copolymers as molecular chaperones to augment endogenous injury repair mechanisms of living cells. Holder of many patents covering scar treatment therapies, tissue engineered ligaments, brain trauma therapies, protective garments.|
|Lynk, Beebe Steven||1872–1948||Chemist||Teacher at West Tennessee University|
|Matzeliger, Jan||1852–1889||Inventor||Shoe assembly Machine|||
|McBay, Henry||1914–1995||Chemist||His discoveries allowed chemists around the world to create inexpensive peroxide compounds|||
|McCoy, Elijah||1844–1929||Inventor||Invented a version of the automatic lubricator for steam engines.|||
|McWhorter, John||1965–||Linguist||Specializes in the study of creole language formation|
|Montgomery, Benjamin||1819–1877||Inventor||Designed a steam operated propeller to provide propulsion to boats in shallow water|
|Morgan, Garrett||1877–1963||Inventor||Invented early version of the gas mask|||
|Nmezi, Murphy||1955–||Physician/Biostatistician||Advances in Path Analysis and Structural Equation Modeling|
|Nriagu, Jerome||1944–||Geochemist||Studies toxic metals in the environment. Originator of the lead poisoning thesis of the decline of the Roman Empire|
|Ogbu, John Uzo||1939–2003||Anthropologist||Ethnic studies in education and economics|||
|Olukotun, Kunle||19xx–||Computer scientist||Early advocate and researcher of multi-core processors|
|Oyekan, Soni||1946–||Chemical engineer|
|Work on the epidemiology of tropical diseases including malaria|
|Petters, Arlie||1964–||Physicist||Work on the mathematical physics of gravitational lensing|
|Quarterman, Lloyd Albert||1918–1982||Scientist
|Manhattan Project, worked with Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi|
|Inventor of the multiple-effect evaporator|||
|Robinson, Larry||1957–||Environmental chemist||Investigated possible role of arsenic in the death of Zachary Taylor. Interim president of Florida A&M University.|
|Wireless communications engineer|
|Sammons, Walter||1890–1973||Inventor||Patent for hot comb|||
|Economist, social theorist and political philosopher|||
|Stereotype threat studies|
|Stiff, Lee||1941–||Mathematician||President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics from 2000 to 2002|||
|Snyder, Window||1976–||Computer engineer||Security engineer at Microsoft, Mozilla, and Apple|
|Temple, Lewis||1800–1854||Inventor, Blacksmith, abolitionist||Inventor of the toggling whaling harpoon head.|||
|Thomas, Vivien||1910–1985||Surgical technician||Blue baby syndrome treatment in the 1940s|||
|Turner, Charles Henry||1867–1923||Zoologist||First person to prove that insects can hear and can distinguish pitch, that cockroaches can learn by trial and error, and that honeybees can see color. First African-American to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.|||
|Tyree, Bernadette||19xx–||Biochemist||Program Director at National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases|
|Tyson, Neil deGrasse||1958–||Astronomer||Researcher and popular educator in astronomy and the sciences|||
|Walker, Arthur B. C., Jr.||1936–2001||Astronomer||Developed normal incidence multilayer XUV telescopes to photograph the solar corona|||
|Walker, C. J.||1867–1919||Inventor||Created black cosmetic products.|
|Washington, Warren M.||1936–||Atmospheric scientist||Former chair of the National Science Board|||
|West, James E.||1931–||Acoustician
|Co-developed the foil electret microphone|||
|Wilkins, J. Ernest, Jr.||1923–2011||Mathematician
|Entered University of Chicago at age 13, PhD at 19, worked on the Manhattan Project, wrote over 100 scientific papers, helped recruit minorities into the sciences.||
|Williams, Daniel||1856–1931||Surgerian||Performed the first successful open-heart surgery in the United States|||
|Williams, Scott W.||1943–||Mathematician|
|Williams, Walter E.||1936–||Economist
|Woods, Granville||1856–1910||Inventor||Invented the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph|||
|Wright, Jane C.||1919–2013||Cancer Research and Surgeon||Noted for her contributions to chemotherapy and for pioneering the use of the drug methotrexate to treat breast cancer and skin cancer|
|Wright, Louis T.||1891–1952||Surgeon||Led team that first used Aureomycin as a treatment on humans|||
|Young, Roger Arliner||1899–1964||Zoologist||First African-American woman to receive a doctorate degree in zoology|||
- History of United States patent law
- Lemelson–MIT Prize
- NASA spinoff
- National Inventors Hall of Fame
- Science and technology in the United States
- Technological and industrial history of the United States
- Timeline of United States discoveries
- Timeline of United States inventions
- United States Patent and Trademark Office
- United States patent law
- Yankee ingenuity
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