Top 5 Life-Changing Technology Inventions by African Americans

Paisley Greer Blog, ZIO Blog

#5 – Multiplex Telegraph

Granville T. Woods, inventor of the 1887 Multiplex Telegraph

In order to land a plane, it is vital to have the help of air traffic controllers to ensure the safety of passengers. These advise pilots on how to navigate takeoffs and landings without colliding into other planes.

Before commercial planes were even around, it was Granville T. Woods who invented a device that allowed train dispatchers to do that same thing in 1887. The Multiplex Telegraph allowed dispatchers and engineers at various stations to communicate with moving trains via telegraph.

Prior to his invention, train collisions were a huge problem. Now, we can safely navigate all types of travel machines – like planes, trains, boats, and cars of the future.

#4 – Shoe Lasting Machine

Jan Matzeliger, inventor of the 1883 Shoe Making Machine

Back in the early – mid 1800’s, purchasing a pair of shoes was a large investment. The price of shoes were unaffordable due to the process of making them. IT was only common for the average person to own 1-2 pairs. This was because the shoe industry, at the time, was held captive by skilled craftsmen known as “hand lasters” who were paid very large salaries, making the shoes expensive to produce.

An exceptional hand laster could complete about 50 pairs of shoes per day. In order to make the shoe, the laster needed to fit shoe leather around a mold of a customer’s foot and attach it to the sole of the shoe.

Matzliger got tired of waiting for the lasters to do their jobs. Because the process was so slow, there were huge backups on the assembly line. After attending night school to read books about science and manufacturing, he started constructing models from spare parts and scraps. After years of study, he produced a shoe lasting machine that would produce between 150-700 pairs of shoes per day.

Because of him, now we are able to enjoy affordable shoes!

#3 – Carbon-filament Light Bulb

Lewis Latimer, inventor of the late-1800’s carbon-filament light bulb

Even though it is normal to credit Thomas Edison for the development of the light bulb, commercial lighting was still a giant feat.

Latimer was hired at a law firm that specialized in patents in 1868. This is where he taught himself mechanical drawing and was promoted from office boy to draftsmen. In his time, he worked with Alexander Graham Bell on the plans for the telephone. He then started turning his attention towards the world of light.

In Thomas Edison’s experiments, the paper in the bulb would burn down in about 15 minutes, rendering the bulb unrealistic for practical use. It was Latimer who created a bulb model that used a carbon filament, which lasted longer and made bulb production cheaper. Because of him, people and businesses can now afford lighting their properties.

#2 – Blood Bank

Charles Richard Drew, inventor of the mid-1900’s Blood Bank

Charles Richard Drew discovered a method of separating red blood cells from plasma and then storing the two components separately. This new process allowed for blood to be stored for more than a week (the max at that time). The ability to store blood for longer periods of time meant that more people could receive transfusions.

This led to the first blood bank, and because of his research, we are able to save millions of lives.

#1 – Gas Mask & Traffic Lights

Garrett Morgan, inventor of the Gas Mask

Only receiving sixth-grade education, Garrett Morgan used his observational and quick-learning traits to become an inventor. While working as a handyman in the early 1900’s, he taught himself how sewing machines worked so that he could open up his own shop, selling machines and repairing broken ones.

While trying to find a fluid that would polish needls, he happened upon a formula that would straighten human hair. This was his first invention.

Little did he know that his next two inventions would go on to save countless lives. Troubled by how many firefighters were killed by smoke, he developed something called the “safety hood.” The hood, which went over the head, featured tubes connected to wet sponges that filtered out smoke and provided fresh oxygen. This gas mask became a sensation in 1916 when Morgan ran to the scene of a tunnel explosion and used his invention to save the lives of trapped workers.

In 1923, as automobiles were becoming more common, Morgan developed an early prototype of the traffic signal after seeing too many collisions.