African American inventors made important scientific contributions to 20th century technological innovations and also designed practical products that gained immediate appreciation from American and international consumers.
Dr. George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver developed more than 300 different applications for the peanut, from food products to shampoo to insecticides. Carver, who became the director of the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School, known as the Tuskegee Institute, in 1896, wrote a research paper entitled “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it For Human Consumption” in 1916, and worked on new agricultural technologies until his death in 1943.
A pioneer in the field of ultraviolet spectroscopy since the 1960s, George Carruthers invented the far-ultraviolet spectrograph -- a camera designed to view the Earth’s ionosphere from up to 400 miles above the Earth’s surface. Carruthers was named Black Engineer of the Year in 1987 and, in 1997, he joined the Independent Scientific Review to advise the Hubble Space Telescope Project.
Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker
In 1905, Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker of St. Louis invented a new method to soften and smooth an African American woman’s hair. Her method, which involved hot combs and curlers, spread throughout the United States and then internationally after it was adopted by singer Josephine Baker. Considered to be the first African American millionaire, Walker’s personal care business employed 3,000 people.
Jesse Hoagland invented a weight lifting bar in 1979 to help weight lifters prevent injuries. His invention was especially made to help lifters when performing leg exercises such as deep knee bends. Hougland’s support bar provides support for holding the weights comfortably on the neck or shoulders of the lifter.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the foremost astrophysicists in America and the current director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. During his work in the latter part of the 20th century, Tyson has made significant contributions on the topics of exploding stars, dwarf galaxies and the structure of the universe.
- State University of New York at Buffalo: Physicists of the African Diaspora
- MIT: Inventor of the Week Archive Far-ultraviolet camera
- Enchanted Learning: Garrett Augustus Morgan: American Inventor
- MIT: Inventor of the Week Archive: African-American Women Inventors of the Early 20th Century
- Justia Patents: Weight Lifting Bar Apparatus
- National Peanut Board: George Washington Carver
- American Museum of Natural History: Neil deGrasse Tyson
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