Invented Improved Ironing Board
The ironing board is a product that’s used possibly just as much as it’s overlooked. In the late 19th century, it was improved upon by Sarah Boone, an African-American woman who was born a slave. One of the first black women in U.S. history to receive a patent, she expanded upon the original ironing board, which was essentially a horizontal wooden block originally patented in 1858. With Boone’s 1892 additions, the board featured a narrower and curved design, making it easier to iron garments, particularly women’s clothing. Boone’s design would morph into the modern ironing board that we use today.
Co-Invented Home Security System
Before security systems became a fixture in homes, an African-American nurse Mary Van Brittan Brown, devised an early security unit for her own home. She spent many nights at home alone in Queens, New York while her husband was away, and felt unsafe with high rates of crime in her neighborhood. On top of that, police were unreliable and unresponsive. So she created a device that would help put her mind at ease.
Invented The Three-Light Traffic Light
With only an elementary school education, black inventor (and son of a slave), Garrett Morgan came up with several significant inventions, including an improved sewing machine and the gas mask. However, one of Morgan's most influential inventions was the improved traffic light. Without his innovation, drivers across the nation would be directed by a two-light system.
Invented Refrigerated Trucks, Invented by Frederick McKinley Jones in 1940
If your refrigerator has any produce from your local grocery store, then you can credit African-American inventor Frederick McKinley Jones. Jones took out more than 60 patents throughout his life, including a patent for the roof-mounted cooling system that’s used to refrigerate goods on trucks during extended transportation in the mid-1930s. He received a patent for his invention in 1940, and co-founded the U.S. Thermo Control Company, later known as Thermo King. The company was critical during World War II, helping to preserve blood, food and supplies during the war.
Invented Automatic Elevator Doors
The use of elevators in everyday life keeps people from committing to long and grueling climbs up several flights of stairs. However, before the creation of elevator doors that close automatically, riding a lift was both complicated and risky.
Before automatic doors, people had to manually shut both the shaft and elevator doors before riding. Forgetting to do so led to multiple accidents as people fell down elevator shafts. When the daughter of African-American inventor Alexander Miles almost fatally fell down the shaft, he took it upon himself to develop a solution. In 1887 he took out a patent for a mechanism that automatically opens and closes elevator shaft doors and his designs are largely reflected in elevators used today.
Co-Invented Electret Microphone
Even for those who aren’t quick to pick up the mic during karaoke, microphones are used every day to communicate over distances far and wide. And more than 90 percent of the microphones used today, including the microphones used in phones and cameras, use a microphone co-invented by a black man. Dr. James E. West was tasked with creating a more sensitive and compact microphone while working at Bell Labs in 1960.
Invented Carbon Light Bulb Filament
The light bulb itself was invented by Thomas Edison, but the innovation used to create longer-lasting light bulbs with a carbon filament came from African-American inventor Lewis Latimer. Latimer, the son of runaway slaves, began work in a patent law firm after serving in the military for the Union during the Civil War. He was recognized for his talent drafting patents and was promoted to head draftsman, where he co-invented an improved bathroom for railroad trains.
Co-Invented Color IBM PC Monitor and Gigahertz Chip
Before flat screens and hi-definition LCD monitors were the norm, PC displays were limited to screens with no color that were tethered to computers with limited processing power. That all changed thanks to black inventor and engineer Mark Dean. Dean began working for IBM as a chief engineer in the early 1980s, making up a team of 12 people who would develop the first IBM PC. In addition to helping create IBM’s original machine in his early years with the company, he also worked to develop the color monitor and led the team that developed the first gigahertz processor. The massive chip, built in 1999, would allow for for higher processing rates at faster speeds within PCs.