Throughout history, black individuals often lose the credit and recognition that comes with their amazing work. These roadblocks they face determine whether they see success or failure, due to the discrimination African Americans faced in the United States.

It is pertinent to remember the history that black individuals have faced and struggled with, within the country. Acknowledging and understanding the hurdles that had to be overcome to have their voices heard, is significant to American history and crucial for trying to better the future. This list highlights some of the major inventions that black individuals have contributed to history.

Lewis Howard Latimer


Public domain |

Lewis Howard Latimer was born on September 4th, 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts to George and Rebecca Latimer who had both escaped from slavery. George was then captured in Boston as a fugitive and defended by William Lloyd Garrison Frederick Douglass. He then was able to purchase his freedom with the help of a local minister, but later disappeared in 1857.

Lewis found work to help support his mother and learned how to draft and mechanically draw by observing someone at the firm he worked for. He was able to take this new found knowledge and incorporate it into his inventions such as the production of a more durable carbon filament for the light bulb. By doing this, he was able to make incandescent lighting affordable and practical for consumers.


Garrett Morgan


Public domain |

Garrett Morgan was born on March 4th, 1987 to Elizabeth Reed and Sydney Morgan. He was one of eleven children and only had an elementary school education where he proceeded with pursuing a career as a sewing-machine mechanic. He would later learn the ins and outs of the sewing machine and gain a patent for an improved sewing machine, this allowed him to open his own sewing machine repair business.

After much success from his sewing machine business, tailoring business, and then hair product business, Garrett would patent a breathing device in 1914. This would allow for a safe experience while breathing in the presence of smoke, pollutants, and other dangerous gasses. His breathing device would then be used as a prototype for the gas mask used in World War I and to date is being improved upon with modern technology. The same goes for when he invented the traffic light using red and green signals in the year 1917.

Sarah Boone


Public domain |

Sarah Boone was born in New Bern, North Carolina on the year 1832 as Sarah Marshall. Her parents were both slaves and at some point she ended up earning her freedom and marrying James Boone to have eight children with. She made a career as a dressmaker in Connecticut to such success that she was able to own her own home. 

With fierce competition, Sarah needed to find a way for her dressmaking to stand out. She found that utilizing a plank for ironing clothes was not proper for more fitted materials. She decided to invent a board that was more narrow and curved to allow for garments to slip onto it. Boone later applied for a patent and became one of the first African American women to be awarded a patent for her invention.

Dr. Patricia Bath


We R Stem

Dr. Patricia Bath was born in Harlem, New York on November 4th, 1942. She had become the first African American to complete her residency in ophthalmology in 1973. Dr. Bath became the first female faculty member at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute’s Ophthalmology Department. In the year 1976, Dr. Patricia Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. 

She would later proceed to invent one of her most well known inventions in the year 1981 to its completion in 1986. This invention was the laserphaco probe that would create a more efficient and less painful way to treat cataracts. Dr. Bath would receive a patent for this invention in the year 1988 and become the first African American female to receive a patent for medical purposes.


Alexander Miles


Duluth Public Library archives – Duluth MN

Alexander Miles was born in 1838 in Ohio and lived until the year 1918. He was born to Michael Miles and Mary Pompy who resided in the free-state of Ohio during the time. Alexander would later marry in Winona, Minnesota and relocate his family to Duluth, Minnesota with the birth of his daughter. There he began his own barbershop and became the first African American to become a member of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce.

Miles is most known for his invention of the automatic elevator doors. He received a patent for this invention in the year 1887. This patent of his was a major improvement to John M. Weaker’s original patent, which still had elevator doors to be manually closed.  His patent allowed for electric based automatic elevator doors to be found everywhere in the country and eventually around the world.

About The Author:

Matthew Skibniewski is currently an intern at the Lesniak Institute and The Outreach Department of The Governor’s Office. Matthew is a PR/Social Media Intern, Outreach Intern, and current student at Kean University studying Public Administration.