From ancient Kemet to the contemporary United States, people of the African Diaspora have been responsible for some of the world’s most innovative and useful creations. Although we are familiar with the inventions of Madam C.J. Walker and George Washington Carver, there are a myriad of inventions that are unbeknownst to many. The following is a list of the top ten most widely unknown black inventors and their inventions. This was a difficult attempt as many of our inventions have been claimed by Europeans and white Americans. But what is most challenging is that because of the sheer number of inventions, a list of just ten was an arduous task. Because we created things then and are creating things now, it is important to highlight our global contributions during Black History Month as inspiration for our present and our future.
- Benjamin Banneker—almanac
Born to freed slaves in 1731, Banneker became an astronomer, author, inventor, mathematician, and surveyor. He invented some of the most effective clocks of his time, planned out the city of Washington, D.C., and published six almanacs that each included political and social commentary, particularly advocating for the rights of slaves and free blacks.
- Patricia Bath—laser surgical device
Bath is a contemporary inventor and ophthalmologist from Harlem, New York. She is the first black female doctor to receive a medical patent. In 1986, she invented the Laserphaco Probe, which has revolutionized the treatment of cataracts.
- Charles Drew—blood bank
Drew was born in Washington, D.C. in 1904. As a surgeon, researcher, and inventor, he invented the modern blood banks. Since World War II, his invention has gone on to save thousands of lives.
- Thomas Elkins—modern toilet
In addition to other inventions, Elkins created the chamber commode in 1872. It included a mirror, washstand, mirror, and more.
- Philip Emeagwali—world’s fastest computer
Emeagwali was born in Nigeria in 1954. Although he came of age during a brutal civil war, he earned many advanced degrees including a Ph.D. in scientific computing. In 1989, he created the world’s fastest computer.
- Frederick Jones—refrigeration machine
Jones was a self-taught engineer with a number of important inventions. His most notable invention was a refrigeration machine used to transport blood, food, and medicine during World War II.
- Lewis Latimer—light bulb
Born in 1848 to runaway slaves, Latimer became an inventor and engineer. In addition to his invention of one of the earliest air conditioning units, he assisted in the development of some of the world’s most important inventions, including the light bulb and the telephone.
- Alexander Miles—improved elevator
Known as “the wealthiest colored man in the Northwest,” Miles created an automatic device to open and close elevator doors. Because of his invention, we are able to enjoy this modern luxury.
- Garrett Morgan—traffic light, gas mask
Born in Kentucky in 1877, Morgan is the inventor of something many utilize everyday, the traffic signal. He created this after witnessing so many accidents on busy urban intersections. In addition to this, he created the gas mask which grew in popularity when it was used to aid workers after an underground explosion.
10. Daniel Hale Williams—pioneer of open heart surgery
Williams was born in Pennsylvania in 1856. He would go on to become a physician and surgeon. In 1891, he founded the first integrated hospital, and just two years later, he became the first person to successfully complete open-heart surgery.