Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Add These Black Innovators and Inventors to Your STEM Curriculum

February 12, 2021

Black inventors 1000w

By Amara Alexander (AL '16)

STEM educator Amara Alexander is the assistant principal at Woodmore Elementary in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She spent the 2019-20 school year as an Einstein Fellow at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.


Innovation and invention thrive throughout American history, but the accomplishments of African Americans are rarely acknowledged. Black America has contributed many new technologies that improve the community and our daily lives; however, their achievements are often overshadowed by others and unknown to many.

Black History is American history, and the innovations developed by African Americans should be celebrated. Here are some Black names to add to your STEM lessons, not just during Black History Month but all year long.

  • Former teacher Miriam E. Benjamin was the first person of color to receive a patent. Benjamin invented the “gong and signal” chair, which had a small button that could be used to get the attention of attendants. The system was created for hotels but was also added to the chairs in the U.S. Senate.
  • Ohio native Garrett A. Morgan witnessed a crash between a horse-drawn carriage and vehicle and decided to create a traffic light. Morgan also designed and manufactured the first safety hood or gas mask.
  • Lonnie Johnson was working as a NASA engineer in the 1980s when he conceived of the “power drencher.” His invention became known as the Super Soaker and can be found in toy stores across the country.
  • Have you used a microphone lately? James West created the foil-electret microphone, which revolutionized the microphone and communication industry. West has numerous patents on the production and design of microphones. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and continues to mentor minorities in the field of science and technology.
  • In the mid-19th century in Saratoga, New York, George Crum, a man of African American and Native American descent, is credited with creating a ubiquitous household snack: potato chips.
  • Frederick McKinley Jones invented mobile refrigeration in 1942, allowing companies to transport food from the factory to the store.
  • Granville T. Woods invented appliances for the electrical railways. He later focused his attention on telegraphy, producing several patents for sending messages between moving trains.
  • Dr. Valerie L. Thomas gifted us with an illusion transmitter that creates three-dimensional projections. Doctors have used her invention to create 3D images of the body to diagnose patients better.
  • Joseph Lee patented the idea of grinding stale bread into crumbs for cooking. Lee later made a bread-making machine that made bread faster than ever before.
  • Lloyd A. Hall figured out how to preserve food by combining sodium chloride with sodium nitrate and nitrite crystals. His patented method is still used today to preserve meats.
  • Dr. Daniel Hale Williams opened the first non-segregated hospital in Chicago, Provident Hospital. He was one of the first doctors to perform open-heart surgery without losing a patient to infection.

African Americans have been trendsetters in the field of innovation and creativity throughout American history. As we celebrate Black History Month, let us be reminded of African Americans who have helped shape our daily lives.

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