Since the founding of the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) in 1973 more than 500 visionary men and women, who conceived, patented, and advanced the greatest technological achievements of our nation, have been inducted. NIHF is the premier nonprofit organization in America dedicated to recognizing inventors and invention, promoting creativity, and advancing the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. Historical innovators like Thomas Jennings, Garrett Morgan and Victor B. Lawrence paved the way beyond science and technology by becoming advocates for African Americans.
Thomas Jennings invented a process he called “dry scouring,” becoming the first African American to be granted a U.S. patent in 1821. The dry scouring process was a predecessor to today’s dry cleaning methods. Jennings’ success as a businessman and patent holder helped him become a leader for civil rights in New York City. When Jennings died, Frederick Douglass wrote about his death. He noted the importance of the patent Jennings received and that the patent recognized him as a “citizen of the United States,” a designation at the time that shocked many.
Garrett Morgan was a self educated black man who produced a series of successful inventions in the beginning of the 20th century. His first well known invention was the safety hood, a forerunner of the gas mask. In 1923 he patented the three way traffic signal one of his best known inventions. Morgan went on to sell his patent to General Electric, which developed the electric version of the product. Morgan became an advocate for racial equality, establishing the first black fraternities in the country at Cleveland’s Western Reserve University.
Victor Lawrence improved transmission for the modern internet with his invention of signal processing in telecommunications. His invention has stimulated the growth of the global internet and advanced data encoding, modem technology, silicon ship design, ATM switching and protocols, DSL and digital video. As a key player in internet technology, Lawrence advocates bringing internet access to the world’s poorest areas. He spearheaded efforts to lay high capacity fiber optic cable along the west coast of Africa.
For more information on the National Inventors in the Hall of Fame African American Inductees and more, visit invent.org/honor/inductees/find-an-inductee/.