Written by: Shannon Crowner
Date: February 18, 2017
The movie “Hidden Figures” reminds us that African Americans made significant contributions to history, but are often left out of the story. Each Saturday this month, we’ll be highlight fascinating pioneers in black history whose stories have gone untold.
Part 3: 5 African American Inventors
Wally Amos (1936-)
Wallace “Wally” Amos Jr. is the founder of the “Famous Amos” chocolate chip cookie brand. The first Famous Amos cookie store opened in Los Angeles in 1975. Within months he opened two more stores on the West Coast and Bloomingdale’s department store had begun selling the cookies. Due to mismanagement, Amos was forced to sell his company to the Shansby Group in 1988. The Keebler Company purchased the Famous Amos brand in 1998 and Amos resumed his role as the brand’s spokesperson.
Sarah Goode (1850-1905)
Sarah Goode was the first African American woman to be granted a patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Goode was born into slavery, but granted her freedom at the end of the Civil War. Her and her husband moved to Chicago where they owned a furniture shop. On July 14, 1885, Goode received the patent for her invention of a folding cabinet bed, similar to a modern Murphy bed.
Lewis Howard Latimer (1848-1929)
Inventor and engineer Lewis Howard Latimer was born in 1848 to parents who had fled slavery. His father was caught and put on trial as a fugitive, but was defended by abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. The father disappeared in fear of being recaptured, so Lewis began working at a young age to help his mother. Latimer taught himself mechanical drawing and drafting and began designing a number of inventions. Latimer helped draft the design for the telephone with Alexander Graham Bell. When he was hired by famous inventor, Thomas Edison, he patented a carbon filament for the incandescent light bulb. The invention helped to make the light bulb more practical and affordable for the average household.
Sarah Boone (1832-1904)
Sarah Boone, a dressmaker, received a patent for an improvement to the ironing board in 1892. Before Boone’s ironing board, most women would use the kitchen table or prop a board between two chairs to iron their clothes. Boone’s ironing board was very narrow and curved to be effective in ironing the sleeves and bodies’ of ladies clothing. Her design included the padded cover and foldable legs.
Garrett Morgan (1877-1963)
Despite his sixth grade education, Garrett Morgan became one of the most successful entrepreneurs and inventors of his time. In 1907, he opened his own repair shop and became the first black man in Cleveland to own a car. He was a member of the NAACP, donated money to black colleges, started an African American newspaper, The Cleveland Call, and opened an all black country club. After witnessing a carriage accident, Morgan invented the three way traffic signal and quickly acquired the patent for it. He sold the rights to the General Electric Company for $40,000.