List of African-American inventors and scientists

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This list of African-American inventors and scientists documents 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, math, and medicine.


African Americans have been the victims of oppression, discrimination and persecution throughout American history, with an impact on African-American innovation according to a 2014 study by economist Lisa D. Cook, which linked violence towards African Americans and lack of legal protections over the period from 1870 to 1940 with lowered innovation.[1] Despite this, many black innovators have been responsible for a large number of major inventions.

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 way of life. The most popular of his 44 practical bulletins for farmers contained 105 food recipes using peanuts.[2] 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.[3]

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 from 1991 to 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 North 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."[4] As of 2019, Johnson holds over 120 patents, with more pending, and is the author of several publications on spacecraft power systems.[5][6][7]


Name Years Occupation(s) Inventions / accomplishments References
Adkins, Rodney 1958– Electrical engineer First African American to serve as a senior vice president at IBM, helped develop IBM ThinkPad
Alcorn, George Edward Jr. 1940– Physicist, inventor Invented a method of fabricating an imaging X-ray spectrometer [8][9]
Alexander, Archie 1888–1958 Civil engineer Responsible for the construction of many roads and bridges, including the Whitehurst Freeway, the Tidal Basin Bridge, and an extension to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
Ammons, Virgie December 29, 1908 – July 12, 2000 Inventor Filed the fireplace throat damper patent on August 6, 1974. [10]
Amos, Harold 1918–2003 Microbiologist First African-American department chair at Harvard Medical School [11]
Andrews, James J. 1930–1998 Mathematician Put forth the Andrews–Curtis conjecture in group theory with Morton L. Curtis, still unsolved [12]
Bailey, Leonard C. 1825–1918 Inventor
Collapsible, folding bed
  • (For the cabinet folding bed, forerunner to the "Murphy bed", patented by Sarah E. Goode in 1885, see her entry at Goode, this page.)
Ball, Alice Augusta 1892–1916 Chemist Developed a technique to make chaulmoogra oil injectable and absorbable, for the first effective treatment of Hansen's disease (leprosy) [15]
Banneker, Benjamin 1731–1806 Almanac author; surveyor; farmer Constructed wooden clock; astronomer; assisted in the survey of the original boundaries of the District of Columbia; authored a series of almanacs and ephemerides; naturalist: recorded observations on emergences of periodical cicadas and on the behavior of honey bees. [16]
Banyaga, Augustin 1947– Mathematician Work on diffeomorphisms and symplectomorphisms [17]
Bashen, Janet 1957– Inventor, entrepreneur, professional consultant First African-American woman to receive a patent for a web-based software invention, LinkLine, an Equal Employment Opportunity case management and tracking software [18]
Bath, Patricia 1942–2019 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 [19][20][21]
Beard, Andrew 1849–1921 Farmer, carpenter, blacksmith, railroad worker, businessman, inventor Janney coupler improvements; invented the car device #594,059 dated November 23, 1897; rotary engine patent #478,271 dated July 5, 1892 [22]
Bell, Earl S. 1977– Inventor, entrepreneur, architect, industrial designer Invented chair with sliding skin (2004) and the quantitative display apparatus (2005) [23][24]


Benjamin, Miriam 1861–1947 Inventor, educator Invented "Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels"; second African-American woman to receive a patent [26]
Berry, Leonidas 1902–1995 Gastroenterologist Gastroscope pioneer [27]
Bharucha-Reid, Albert T. 1927–1985 Mathematician, statistician Probability theory and Markov chain theorist [28]
Black, Keith 1957– Neurosurgeon Brain tumor surgery and research [29][30]
Blackwell, David 1919–2010 Mathematician, statistician 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 [31]
Blair, Henry 1807–1860 Inventor Second black inventor to issue a patent; invented seed planter and cotton planter. [32][33]
Boahen, Kwabena 1964– Bioengineer Silicon retina able to process images in the same manner as a living retina [34][35]
Boone, Sarah 1832–1905 Inventor Ironing board allowing sleeves of women's garments to be ironed more easily [36][37][38]
Bouchet, Edward 1852–1918 Physicist First African-American to receive a PhD 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 [39][40]
Boykin, Otis 1920–1982 Inventor, engineer Artificial heart pacemaker control unit [41][42][43]
Brady, St. Elmo 1884–1966 Chemist Published three scholarly abstracts in Science; collaborated on a paper published in the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry [44]
Brannon, Horace Signor 1884–1970 Physician World War I veteran, military physician who served in the 93rd Infantry Division [45][46]
Branson, Herman 1914–1995 Physicist, educator Protein structure research [47][48]
Brooks, Charles 1865– ? Inventor Street sweeper truck and a type of paper punch [49][50][51]
Brown, Henry 1832– ? Inventor Invented fire safe [52]
Brown, Oscar E. 18xx– ? Inventor Received a patent for an improved horseshoe[53]
Brown, Marie Van Brittan 1922–1999 Inventor Invented the home security system [54]
Burr, John Albert 18xx– ? Inventor Rotary-blade lawn mower patent [55]
Cannon, Thomas C. 1943– Inventor Led a group of engineers who developed the Tactical Optical Fiber Connector (TOFC), the first fiber optic connector deployed under battlefield conditions, and the ST Connector that helped make fiber optic communications affordable.
Cardozo, William Warrick 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 [56]
Carruthers, George (1931–2020) Astrophysicist Invented ultraviolet camera/spectrograph, which was used by NASA when it launched Apollo 16 in 1972 [54]
Carver, George Washington 1865–1943 Botanical researcher Discovered hundreds of uses for previously useless vegetables and fruits, principally the peanut [57][58][59][60]
Chandler, Edward Marion Augustus 1887–1973 Chemist 2nd African American to obtain a PhD in chemistry in US and part of the founding faculty of Roosevelt College (now Roosevelt University) [61]
Chappelle, Charles W. 1872–1941 Electrician, construction, international businessman, and aviation pioneer Designed long-distance flight airplane; the only African-American to invent and display the airplane at the 1911 First Industrial Air Show held in conjunction with the Auto Show at Grand Central Palace in Manhattan in New York City; president of the African Union Company, Inc. [62][63][64]
Chappelle, Emmett 1925–2019 Scientist and researcher Valuable contributions to several fields: medicine, biology, food science, and astrochemistry
Chin, Karen Paleontologist Considered one of the world's leading experts in coprolites
Clark, Kenneth B. 1917–1983 Psychologist First Black president of the American Psychological Association [65]
Clark, Mamie Phipps 1914–2005 Psychologist Conducted 1940s experiments using dolls to study children's attitudes about race
Crosthwait, David Jr. 1898–1976 Research engineer Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; received some 40 US patents relating to HVAC systems
Curtis, James H. "Nick" 1935– Researcher, chemist (electronics/specialty chemicals) Organic ionogen for aluminum electrolytic capacitors, cationic dialdehyde polysaccharides for wet strength paper and others, US Patent Office US Pat #3609467 US Pat #3547423 and others
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 Biochemist First black American woman with a PhD in chemistry
Davis, Chuck ? -2017 Inventor and electrical engineer Inventor of the pROSHI neurofeedback device. [66][67]
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 [68][69][70]
Drew, Charles 1904–1950 Medical researcher Developed improved techniques for blood storage
Easley, Annie 1933–2011[71] Computer scientist Work at the Lewis Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics [71][72]
Ellis, Clarence "Skip" 1943–2014 Computer scientist First African American with a PhD in computer science; software inventor including OfficeTalk at Xerox PARC [73][74]
Ezerioha, Bisi 1972– Automotive engineer Drag racing engineer and driver
Ferguson, Lloyd Noel 1918–2011 Chemist, educator Chemistry doctorate, first received (1943, University of California, Berkeley) [75][76][77]
Fox, Brian J. 1959– Computer scientist, programmer, technologist Original author of bash, and developer of the first online banking website in the US. [78]
Fryer, Roland G. Jr. 1977– Economist, social scientist, statistician Inequality studies
Gates, Sylvester James 1950– Theoretical physicist Work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory [79][80]
Gilbert, Juan E. 1969– Computer scientist Awarded the first Presidential Endowed Chair at Clemson University in honor of his accomplishments
Gipson, Mack 1931–1995 Geologist First Black man to receive a Ph.D. in Geology
Goode, Sarah E. 1855–1905 Inventor Folding "cabinet-bed", forerunner of the Murphy bed; first African-American woman to receive a patent in the United States [81][82][83]
Grant, George F. 1846–1910 Dentist, professor The first African-American professor at Harvard, Boston dentist, and inventor of a wooden golf tee. [84]
Graves, Joseph L. 1955– Evolutionary biologist [85][86][87]
Green, Lisa Linguist Specializes in syntax and the study of African American English
Greenaugh, Kevin 1956–2023 Nuclear engineer [88]
Griffin, Bessie Blount 1914–2009 Physical therapist, inventor Amputee self-feeding device [89][90]
Hall, Lloyd 1894–1971 Chemist
Harewood, Ken R. Molecular biologist GlaxoSmithKline Distinguished Professor and Director of the North Carolina Central University (NCCU) Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnology Research institute and recognized for his work in the fields of cancer biology and cancer drug discovery. [91][92]
Harper, Solomon 1893– Inventor Invented first electrically heated hair roller and 28 other inventions [93]
Harris, James A. 1932–2000 Radiochemist Co-discovered Rutherfordium (element 104) and Dubnium (element 105) at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory [94]
Hawkins, Walter Lincoln 1911–1992 Scientist Inventor at Bell Laboratories [95]
Hodge, John E. 1914–1996 Chemist
Holley, Kerrie 1954– Computer scientist IBM's 1st black Distinguished Engineer and 2nd black IBM Fellow. Inventor of several software engineering techniques including system and methods for locating mobile devices using location and presence information [96]
Jackson, John W. Jr. 1953–2007 Electrical engineer, inventor, activist Co-inventor of imaging x-ray spectrometer. NASA engineer. United States of America Army Civilian Engineer.
Jackson, Mary 1921–2005 Mathematician, Aerospace engineer NASA's first black female engineer
Jackson, Shirley 1946– Physicist Distinguished and pioneering scientific career, achieving several "firsts" as a woman and as an African-American[97]
Jackson, William 1936– Laser chemist/photochemist, cometary astrochemist at Howard University and UC Davis Research to unravel the key photochemical sinks of important molecules in planetary atmospheres, in our and other solar systems, around stars, and the interstellar medium. [98]
Jarvis, Erich 1965– Neurobiologist Duke University neuroscience bird songs studies [99][100][101]
Jefferson, Roland 1923–2020 Botanist First African-American botanist to work at the United States National Arboretum; played important role in the preservation of Washington, D.C.'s famous flowering cherry trees. [102]
Jennings, Thomas L. 1791–1856 Inventor First African American to be granted a patent (for a dry cleaning process called dry scouring) [103]
Johnson, Isaac 18xx– ? Inventor Held patent for improvements to the bicycle frame, specifically so it could be taken apart for compact storage [104]
Johnson, Katherine 1918–2020 Physicist, mathematician Made contributions to the United States' aeronautics and space programs with the early application of digital electronic computers at NASA.
Johnson, Lonnie 1949– Mechanical engineer, nuclear engineer, inventor Invented Super Soaker while researching thermal energy transfer engines; worked with NASA; holder of over 80 patents [7][105][106][107]
Jones, Frederick McKinley 1893–1961 Inventor Invented refrigerated truck systems [108]
Julian, Percy 1899–1975 Chemist First to synthesize the natural product physostigmine; earned 130 chemical patents; lauded for humanitarian achievements [109][110][111][112]
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 [113][114][115]
Kittles, Rick 1967– Geneticist Work in tracing the ancestry of African Americans via DNA testing [116][117]
Kountz, Samuel L. 1930–1981 Transplant surgeon, researcher Organ transplantation pioneer, particularly renal transplant research and surgery; author or co-author of 172 articles in scientific publications [118][119][120][121]
Land, Adrian Microbiologist Researcher on Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus [122][123][124]
Latimer, Lewis 1848–1928 Inventor, draftsman, expert witness Worked as a draftsman for both Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison; invented the more durable filament, which made the incandescent light bulb last long enough to be useful; became a member of Edison's Pioneers and served as an expert witness in many light bulb litigation lawsuits; said to have invented the water closet. [125][126][127][128]
Lawson, Jerry 1940–2011 Computer engineer Designer of Fairchild Channel F, the first programmable ROM cartridge-based video game console [129][130]
Lee, Raphael Carl 1949– Surgeon, biomedical engineer Professor at Pritzker School of Medicine; discovered ways to improve injury repair mechanisms of living cells; holds patents related to scar treatment therapies, tissue engineered ligaments, brain trauma therapies, and protective garments [131][132][133][134][135]
Lynk, Beebe Steven 1872–1948 Chemist Teacher at West Tennessee University
Mahoney, Mary 1845–1926 Nurse First African-American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States[136]
Martin, Thomas J. 1842–1872 Inventor Awarded a patent in 1872 for improvements to the fire extinguisher [137][138][139][140]
McBay, Henry 1914–1995 Chemist His discoveries allowed chemists around the world to create inexpensive peroxide compounds [141][142]
McCoy, Elijah 1844–1929 Inventor Invented the automatic lubricator for steam engines, McCoy learned a great deal of his skills from a mechanical apprenticeship when he was age fifteen. [143][144]
McLurkin, James 1972– Roboticist [145]
McNair, Ronald 1950–1986 Astronaut and Physicist Specialized in chemical and high-pressure laser physics
McWhorter, John 1965– Linguist Specializes in the study of creole language formation
Mensah, Thomas 1950–2024 Inventor
Miles, Alexander 1838–1918 Inventor Invented electric elevator doors that automatically open and close [146]
Montgomery, Benjamin 1819–1877 Inventor Designed a steam operated propeller to provide propulsion to boats in shallow water
Moore, Willie Hobbs 1934–1994 Physicist First African-American woman to earn a PhD in physics (University of Michigan Ann Arbor 1972) on vibrational analysis of secondary chlorides [147]
Morgan, Garrett 1877–1963 Inventor Invented an early version of a gas mask called a smoke hood, and created the first traffic light that included a third "warning" position which is standard today. Morgan also developed a chemical that was used in hair products for hair-straightening. [148][149]
Nriagu, Jerome 1944– Geochemist Studies toxic metals in the environment; supporter of the lead poisoning thesis of the decline of the Roman Empire
Parker, Alice H. 1895–1920 Inventor Furnace for Central Heating
Petters, Arlie 1964– Physicist Work on the mathematical physics of gravitational lensing
Poindexter, Hildrus 1901–1987 Bacteriologist, epidemiologist Work on the epidemiology of tropical diseases, including malaria
Quarterman, Lloyd Albert 1918–1982 Scientist, fluoride chemist Manhattan Project, worked with Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi
Renfroe, Earl 1907–2000 Orthodontist [150][151]
Rillieux, Norbert 1806–1894 Engineer, inventor Inventor of the multiple-effect evaporator [152]
Robinson, Larry 1957– Environmental chemist Investigated possible role of arsenic in the death of Zachary Taylor; interim president of Florida A&M University
Ross, Archia Turn of 20th century Inventor A runner for stoops (1896), bag closure device (1898), a wrinkle-preventing trouser stretcher (1899), a garment-hanger (1903), and a holder for brooms and like articles. [153][154][155][156][157]
Russell, Jesse 1948– Engineer, inventor Wireless communications engineer
Ruth, William Chester 1882–1971 Inventor, machinist Combination baler feeder, self-lifting farm elevator [158]
Sammons, Walter 1890–1973 Inventor Patent for hot comb [159]
Snyder, Window 1976– Computer engineer Security engineer at Microsoft, Mozilla, and Apple
Sowell, Thomas 1930– Economist, social scientist Economist, social theorist and political philosopher [160][161][162][163]
Steele, Claude 1946– Psychologist, social scientist Stereotype threat studies
Stiff, Lee 1941– Mathematician President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics from 2000 to 2002 [164]
Temple, Lewis 1800–1854 Inventor, blacksmith, abolitionist Inventor of the toggling whaling harpoon head [165]
Thomas, Valerie 1943– Data analyst and inventor Invented the illusion transmitter [166][167]
Thomas, Vivien 1910–1985 Surgical technician Blue baby syndrome treatment in the 1940s [168][169][170]
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 PhD from the University of Chicago [171]
Tyree, G. Bernadette 19xx– Biochemist [citation needed] Program Director, Division of Musculoskeletal Diseases, at National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health [172]
Tyson, Neil deGrasse 1958– Astronomer Researcher and popular educator in astronomy and the sciences [173][174][175]
Valerino, Powtawche 1980– Engineer Worked for JPL and NASA at Langley Research Center
Vaughan, Dorothy 1910–2008 Mathematician Worked for NACA and NASA at Langley Research Center
Walker, Arthur B. C. Jr. 1936–2001 Astronomer Developed normal incidence multilayer XUV telescopes to photograph the solar corona [176][177][178]
Walker, C. J. 1867–1919 Inventor Created black cosmetic products [179]
Ward, Dawn N. 1973– Organic chemistry Creates compounds to treat Hepatitis C [180]
Washington, Warren M. 1936– Atmospheric scientist Former chair of the National Science Board [181][182][183][184]
West, James E. 1931– Acoustician, inventor Co-developed the foil electret microphone [185][186][187]
White, Lisa Paleontologist Geologist and Director of Education and Outreach at the University of California Museum of Paleontology
Wilkins, J. Ernest Jr. 1923–2011 Mathematician, engineer, nuclear scientist Entered University of Chicago at age 13; PhD at 19; worked on the Manhattan Project; wrote more than 100 scientific papers; helped recruit minorities into the sciences [188][189][190]
Williams, Daniel 1856–1931 Surgeon The first black person on record to have successfully performed pericardium (the sac surrounding the heart) surgery to repair a wound. [191]
Williams, Marguerite Thomas 1895–1991 Geologist First Black person to receive a Ph.D. in Geology
Williams, Scott W. 1943– Mathematician [192]
Williams, Walter E. 1936–2020 Economist, social scientist [193][194][195]
Woods, Granville 1856–1910 Inventor Invented the synchronous multiplex railway telegraph [196]
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 [197][198][199]
Yaeger, Ivan 1967– Inventor Inventor of the Yaeger Prosthetic Arm
Young, Roger Arliner 1899–1964 Zoologist First African-American woman to receive a doctorate degree in zoology [200][201]

See also[edit]


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