Black History Month: Who knew? 20 Inventions by African Americans you might not know about

Who doesn't love a good chip?

African Americans have a rich history of having invented genius creations that continue to have an effect on our lives today. This Black History Month, we’ve highlighted 20 inventions gifted to the world by Black brilliance at the drawing board!

Potato chips–Who doesn’t love a good chip? In 1853, George Crum was working as a cook at a resort in upstate New York. A customer sent his dish of french fries back to the kitchen, claiming that they weren’t good. In an irritated fit, Crum cut the potatoes as thinly as possible, fried them until they were burnt crisps, sprinkled some salt on top and voilà; he birthed the chip.

Home security system–Mary Van Brittan Brown, a nurse, devised an early security unit for her own home. She and her husband took out a patent for the system in the same year, and they were awarded the patent three years later, in 1969. Home security systems commonly used today took various elements from Mary’s design.

Super Soaker–Remember that Super Soaker gun many kids loved playing with for hours-on-end in the early 90s? Summer just wasn’t the same without Lonnie Johnson’s fun invention. Johnson was an Aerospace Engineer for NASA who invented the popular children’s squirt gun that went on to be one of the most successful toys of all time.

Clothes dryer–George T. Sampson invented the automatic clothes dryer in 1892. His mother was a slave, washing clothes for her mistress. When she suddenly died, Sampson had to help his father do the job of hanging out the clothes to dry. Ergo, the reason for his invention!

Dust pan–Lloyd P. Ray an author and inventor received a patent in 1897 for his improved version of the dust pan. Lloyd invented a device with a metal collection plate attached to a short wooden handle allowing trash to be swept into it. Neat!

Ice cream scooper–We can thank Alfred L. Cralle for making it easier to pile on the ice cream. Cralle thought there must be a more simple way to serve ice cream without it sticking to the spoon and the use of two hands to serve it. He solved the problem on Feb. 2, 1897, at the age of 30 when he invented the ice cream scooper.

Lawn sprinkler–Joseph A. Smith is the guy you should thank for quenching the thirst of your lawns. Smith improved upon the lawn sprinkler by patenting the first rotary-head lawn sprinkler in 1897 that sprayed water in two directions.

Mop–So glad Thomas A. Stewart made life easier by creating an object in 1893 that glides across floors as it cleans it.

Disposable syringe–Phil Brooks is an African American inventor who received a patent for the disposable syringe in 1974, which has uses in multiple fields most notably the medical field.

Horseshoe–Whoa Nelly! In 1892, Oscar E. Brown invented the horseshoe that is used to protect a horse’s hoof from wearing down.

Dyes–In 1927, George Washington Carver invented 500 different shades of dyes using agricultural crops. Until then, dyes were hugely imported from Europe.

Window cleaner–A.L. Lewis patented the original window cleaner in 1892. He sought to invent a more effective tool that would clean a window by giving it a few swipes.

Fountain pen–William Purvis was always striving to improve what he saw as inconvenient. In January of 1890, Purvis was awarded a patent for the fountain pen. Fountain pens eliminated the inconvenience of having to carry around a bottle of ink whenever there was a need to sign a contract or legal document.

Curtain Rod–Thanks to Samuel Scottron and his invention of the curtain rod in the 1800s, we can hang pretty curtains in the window.

Doorknob and doorstopper–In 1848, a 16-year-old African-American inventor named Osbourn Dorsey developed the patent for not only the first modern doorknob as we know today but for doorstoppers as well.

Refrigerator–John Standard found a way to improve the design of refrigerators with a non-electrical and unpowered design. Standard’s refrigerator made in 1891 used a manually filled ice chamber for chilling and was granted a patent on June 14, 1891.

Rollercoaster–Granville T. Woods was an inventor who held more than 50 patents in the U.S. for improved electrical devices ranging from automatic brakes, to egg incubators, to phonographs and telephones. Among the companies who bought his inventions were General Electric, Westinghouse, Edison Company, and American Engineering. After he died in 1910, he was remembered as the “Black Thomas Edison.” He was the first African American mechanical and electrical engineer after the Civil War.  Coney Island always had a reputation as a place where people could make their dreams come true, and where people outside the mainstream could prove themselves. For inventor Woods, it became the place where he demonstrated two of his famous inventions: an electric railway and an electric roller coaster called the Figure Eight.

Helicopter–African American inventor Paul E. Williams patented the “first useful helicopter” the Lockheed Model 186 (XH-51) on the 26th of November 1962.

Ice cream–In the mid-1800s, Augustus Jackson invented a better way of making ice cream. He is sometimes called the modern-day “Father of Ice Cream.” Jackson did not invent ice cream but his ice cream recipes became famous. He invented a way of making ice cream that is still used today. He used salt. Salt lowered the temperature of the ice cream. It also made the flavors taste better.

Mary Kenner–In 1957, Mary Kenner changed the world of feminine care with the invention of the sanitary belt, the precursor to the self-adhesive maxi pad. The sanitary belt aimed to prevent the leakage of menstrual blood on clothing, which was a common problem for women at the time. The Sonn-Nap-Pack Company got word of this invention in 1957 and contacted Mary intending to market her invention, however when they discovered that she was Black, they declined. Beltless pads were invented in the 1970s and, as tampons became more popular, women stopped using sanitary belts.