Patents Gone Wild: Celebrating Black History Month, Inventor-Style

American innovation is rich with contributions from many famous black inventors with roots dating back to the late 1800's. Here is a very small sample of great inventions that led to modern innovations...

Early Inventions = Modern Love

  • 1867: Alexander Miles- Elevator
  • 1872: Thomas Marshall- Fire extinguisher
  • 1875: Alexander P. Ashbourne- Biscuit cutter
  • 1878: Osbourn Dorsey- Door knob & door stop
  • 1878: Joseph W. Winters- Fire escape ladder
  • 1884: Willie Johnson- Egg beater
  • 1892: Samuel R. Scrottron- Curtain rod
  • 1896: William S. Grant- Curtain rod support

Sit for A Song

Often we tend to forget the humble beginnings of our modern-day spoils. Take the chair for example. How often do you think “Gee, I wonder who decided four legs and a top could be used to rest my backside?” In 1911, Nathaniel Alexander of Lynchburg, Virginia, patented a new improvement to a chair by adding a book rest and support that was placed in position when the seat of the chair was lowered. When the chair folded, the book rest folded back to its original position.  His invention was very useful for schools, churches, and auditoriums.

Bye, Bye Baby

While the first baby carriage was designed and built by William Kent in 1733 for the 3rd Duke of Devonshire’s children in England, William H. Richardson had an idea that was revolutionary. A Baltimore native, Richardson walked into the patent office with the idea to use a special joint allowing a bassinet to be turned in order to face the person pushing the cart. He created the first reversible baby carriage whose wheels could turn individually providing a smaller turning radius. 

I Can See Clearly Now…

Dr. Patricia E. Bath is a world-famous ophthalmologist and her impressive accomplishments include US4744360A Apparatus for Ablating and Removing Cataract Lenses filed in 1988. The invention, named the Laserphaco Probe, can be inserted in a tiny incision in the eye to destroy or “phacobalates” the cataract and lens. Prior to her invention, the removal of cataracts was very manual, but her creativeness increased the accuracy of the procedure and reduced the amount of discomfort to the patient. Her U.S. patent and the patent family members have over 130 forward citations from major corporations like Abbott Laboratories, Medtronic, Carl-Zeiss, and Novartis. I really enjoy this quote from her, too!

So Many More to Mention!

There are many more modern-day innovations that are directly related to the patents of early black inventors:  blood banks, refrigerators, the electric trolley, the dust pan, clothes dryers, lawn mowers, traffic signals, etc… In celebration of Black History Month, I wanted to call out just a few here that continue to inspire many creative discoveries. To learn more about these and other great minds, go to

Miss the last Patents Gone Wild post? Check them out!

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