February 7, 2022

Black Inventors and Their Inventions

February is Black History Month, honoring the triumphs and struggles of African Americans throughout U.S. history. Among these triumphs are the inventions black inventors have contributed, many of which were not recognized with a patent because the Patent Acts of 1793 and 1836 barred slaves from obtaining patents because they were not considered citizens.

It was not until the Patent Act of 1870 that “any person or persons” having discovered or invented any new and useful art, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement on any art, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, could apply for and obtain a patent.

The breadth and importance of inventions contributed by black inventors is one of the best examples of the value of diversity:

Dry Cleaning

Most historians agree that the first U.S. patent that issued to a black inventor was U.S. Patent No. X3306, issued to Thomas L. Jennings more than two hundred years ago on March 3, 1821, on dry scouring — a method of dry cleaning.


The second patent that issued to a black inventor was U.S. Patent No. 8447X, issued to Henry Blair on a (Corn) Seed Planter. He also received U.S. Patent No. 15 on a Corn Planter.

Locomotive Lubricators

Elijah McCoy, was a prolific inventor. Among his 57 U.S. patents was U.S. Patent No. 129843 for Improvements in Lubricators for Steam-Engines, on July 28, 1872. It is reputed that his invention was so often duplicated, that people began asking for the “real McCoy.”

Elijah McCoy Notable Black Inventor

Uses for Peanuts

George Washington Carver was a famous scientist and prolific inventor, although he only patented two of his inventions, U.S. Patent 1,522,176, on Cosmetic and Process of Producing the Same, and U.S. Patent 1,632,365, on Process of Producing Paints and Stains.