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Inventions: African American Inventors

African American Inventors

Davyeon Ross and Bruce Ianni are the inventors of ShotTracker basketball analytics software.  They also founded the ShotTracker company, based in Shawnee Mission, KS.

Photo: Startland News

Ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia Bath has 3 patents related to the Laserphaco Probe, which revolutionized cataract surgery. She is also the subject of a biographical picture book for children. Bath was an inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Class of 2022.

Photo: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Sarah Boone's design improvements to the ironing board made it easier to iron women's clothing, and gave her a competitive advantage over other dressmakers (1892).

Prince's keyboard design

Prince Rogers Nelson patented the design for his custom-made "keytar" in 1996.  Fellow musicians Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul also hold patents.

Photo: Twitter/U.S. PTO

George Crum (née George Speck) created the potato chip in the 1853, though it's rumored to have been by accident.  Crum never patented the chip nor the process to make them.

Marie van Brittan Brown and Alfred Brown's home surveillance system (1966) included a camera, a TV monitor, microphones, a “radio-controlled lock”, and an emergency button to call police.

Photo: New York Times

Janet Emerson Bashen borrowed $5,000 from her mother to launch her own company. She's the first African American woman to earn a patent for a software invention, LinkLinePlus® (2006).

Photo: Prleap

The "street letter box" was designed by Philip Downing to protect mail from theft and poor weather conditions (1891). He later invented an envelope moistening apparatus.

Ivan Yaeger received his first patent in 1987 as a student at the University of Miami. The Yaeger Prosthetic Arm was controlled through activating sensors on the human body.


National Inventors Hall of Fame's Black History Month exhibit in the lobby at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Washington, D.C.

George Washington Carver

Selected Articles

African American Inventors in History.  Lesson plan for grades 6-12; includes Common Core Standards. Published by the American Institute of Physics

Black Inventors - The Complete List of Genius Black American (African American) Inventors, Scientists, and Engineers with Their Revolutionary Inventions That Changed the World and Impacted History: Part One & Part TwoInteresting Engineering, 2018

Augusta County slave co-invented reaper that revolutionized agriculture. The News-Leader (VA), May 2018

4 Black Women Reimagined the Technology of the Home. Smithsonian Magazine, February 2017*

The inventor of the energy-harnessing soccer ball made a huge pivot — and it's paying off big time. Business Insider, October 2016.

Jessica Matthews

Nigerian-American entrepreneur Jessica Matthews, CEO of Uncharted Power, a renewable energy tech startup. Photo: Business Insider

The Untold Story of the Man Who Called Himself the "Black Edison (inventor Garrett Morgan). Popular Mechanics, September 2016*

Morgan safety hood

Drawing from US patent 1113675 (1914) for the "Morgan Safety Hood", the forerunner to today's gas mask.

* = available in print in the Library


Links to Other Resources

Interview with basketball icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, author of the children's book What Color Is My World: The Lost History of African-American Inventors (2018; 59 mins)Part of the "Beyond Words" multimedia collection produced by the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. 

Founder Julieanna Richardson talks about her motivation to launch The HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest African American video oral history archive (1:19:00). The site provides thousands of oral histories from African Americans who have made a significant contribution in some area of American life or culture. Click here to retrieve the records for Inventors.

Other Useful Websites:

10 Important Black Inventors in U.S. History

African American History Month. Virtual exhibit on Google Arts & Culture; created by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Washington D.C.

African American Inventors

Black Inventor Online Museum

Black Inventors and Scientists Museums, Inc.  Home of the Original Traveling Black Inventions Museum

Black Inventors Hall of Fame Click on Tag: Occupation-Inventor or STEM-Inventors

Famous Black Inventors. Created by

Finding aids for the Garrett A. Morgan papers and photographs at Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH