The National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), founded in 1973, has honored more than 500 visionary men and women for their patented, technological achievements, and the impact their inventions have had on our society. During the month of February, a recent display — located right outside the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum — celebrated the lasting legacy of four African-American Inductees of the past and the present. In honor of Black History Month, Lewis Latimer, Charles Drew, James West and George Alcorn were featured in the display.
Lewis Latimer (1848-1928): Durable Carbon Filament for Electric Light Bulbs, Inducted in 2006
While working for the United States Electric Lighting Co. in the 1880s, Latimer made his most important innovation in electric light technology — a more durable carbon filament. His design resulted in more affordable incandescent light bulbs transforming the average American home after nightfall. Despite the societal roadblocks a black man faced in the late 19th century, Latimer became a success in the electric lighting industry.
Charles Drew (1904-50): Blood Plasma Preservation, Inducted in 2015
A renowned African-American physician for his work in blood plasma preservation, Charles Drew saved the lives of hundreds of Britons during World War II, and continues to save lives today, with his work in blood plasma preservation. In 1941, he became the first African-American surgeon to serve as examiner on the American Board of Surgery.
James West: Electret Microphone, Inducted in 1999
While working at Bell Laboratories, James West and Gerhard Sessler patented the electret microphone. The microphone became widely used because of its high performance, accuracy and reliability, in addition to being a small-size, lightweight and low-cost product. Over ninety percent of today’s microphones are electret microphones, used in everyday items such as cell phones, camcorders and tape recorders.
George Alcorn: X-Ray Spectrometer, Inducted in 2015
A pioneering physicist and engineer noted for his aerospace and semiconductor inventions, George Alcorn invented his x-ray imaging spectrometer during his career at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. His invention allowed for the detection of radio signatures at a more distant and accurate rate than previously possible and influenced the continued evolution of imaging devices. Alcorn’s devices and their descendants have been used to conduct planetary mapping, search for new planets, create star charts to reveal motions of systems and examine deep-space phenomena.