3 African American Inventors You May Not Have Heard Of

Percy Julian
Written by Tinaya Sallie

Percy L. Julian

Percy Lavon Julian, the first African-American to be inducted into the National academy of Sciences, was a chemist who has been credited as being the father of modern day synthesis. His work in large scale chemical synthesis in the early 90’s paved the way for the production drugs like cortisone and birth control pills.

Julian was one of the first African-Americans to receive a PhD in chemistry and received more than 100 patents. His research helped in the development of “Aer-O-Foam”, the fire-fighting foam that has saved the lives of countless people.

Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr.

Garrett Morgan, African American innovator, invented the three-positioned traffic light to prevent car accidents in 1923.

Garrett Morgan, African American innovator, invented the three-positioned traffic light to prevent car accidents in 1923.

Garret Morgan was a man of many abilities. He was a brilliant inventor and a dedicated community leader. Credited with the invention of the modern day safety hood for fire fighters, the 3 function traffic signal and the accidental discovery of hair straightening cream, he continued to give his life and his time to making the world better and safer.

He was a successful businessman who built his reputation from being the guy who fixed literally any broken machine, to owning among others a sewing machine and shoe repair shop, and a sewing shop called Morgan’s Cut Rate Ladies Clothing Store that employed 32 workers.

Well remembered for his brave rescue of trapped workers in 1916, he remained a strong pillar in his community. Together with his wife, he set up the Cleveland Association of Colored Men.  This group was to help improve the social and economic status of black men. He died at the age of 86 and was laid to rest at the Lake View Cemetery in Ohio.

Jan Ernst Matzeliger

Jan Ernest Matzeliger

Jan settled in the United States in 1873 from Paramaribo, and ten years later, was the proud owner of the patent for a shoe lasting machine.

This was no big surprise because he had shown interest in mechanics from a very young age. After trying to find work without much luck in Philadelphia, he moved to Massachusetts where he got a job as an apprentice in a shoe factory.

Some of the processes in shoe making were mechanized by then, but “lasting” also a very important step, was still done manually and this was a problem for someone like Jan because of the mechanical way his brain worked. He set out to find a way to automate that process in order to increase the efficiency of the process.

After many attempts, he finally inventing the “lasting machine” for which he received a patent and as a result of his efforts, shoe production time and cost were both cut down, making shoes more affordable to purchase.

His life was cut short by sickness, however, and he passed away at the young age of 37.

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Tinaya Sallie

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