In recognition of the contributions that blacks have made throughout history to various fields including commerce, science, medicine, education, and politics, IWF will feature short profiles of pioneering women for Black History Month.
Many conveniences we take for granted are the brainchildren of black inventors including women. Some inventors were serial creators while others stumbled onto their inventions. They all developed products that were revolutionary in their time and still improve our quality of life today.
Here are 5 inventions and their inventors:
Sarah Boone was a dressmaker credited with being one of the first black women to earn a patent for her invention, a modern ironing board.
Born in 1832 to enslaved parents in North Carolina, Sarah Marshall earned her freedom–perhaps by marrying a freed black man–and moved north with her spouse and family through a network connected to the Underground Railroad.
Boone settled in New Haven Connecticut and became a successful dressmaker.
To set herself apart from the competition she created an ironing board with a narrower, curved shape that made it easier to iron sleeves and contoured clothing such as corsets, padding to avoid impressions from the board’s wood, and collapsable for easy storage.
In 1892, she was granted a patent for her new and improved ironing board.
Born into slavery around 1855, Sarah Elisabeth Goode gained her freedom five years later. In 1870, she moved to Chicago and opened a furniture store.
Goode’s customers complained that beds on the market did not fit in their small apartments, so she created a bed that could fit into urban dwellings with limited space. She crafted a cabinet bed that folded up into a roll-top desk with compartments for writing tools. This bed was industry-changing and would be the precursor to the murphy bed.
A hairdresser by trade, Lyda Newman was born in Ohio around 1885 but spent most of her life in New York City.
Through her work, Newman innovated a new kind of hairbrush that improved efficiency and hygiene. Her design included evenly spaced rows of bristles, synthetic bristles, open slots to catch debris from the hair, and a one-touch opening on the back of the brush to empty debris from a hidden compartment.
In 1898, she received a patent for her improved hairbrush model becoming the third black woman to receive a patent for an invention.
Sanitary Belt/Walker/Toilet Tissue Holder
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was born in 1912 to a family of inventors. Her father patented a portable clothing presser when she was two. Her grandfather invented a tricolor light signal for trains and a stretcher with wheels for ambulances.
Kenner was an inventor from an early age as well, attempting to invent a self-oiling door hinge.
While working as a florist, Kenner invented new products in her spare time. She created a sanitary belt to hold sanitary napkins in place–the precursor to the maxi pad. She also invented a walker with an attached serving tray and pocket to carry items, a toilet paper holder, and a back washer mounted onto a shower wall. Kenner earned five patents over her life.
CCTV Home Security System
Mary Van Brittan Brown
Mary Van Brittan Brown was an accidental inventor. Born in 1922, in Queens, New York, Brown later married and became a nurse working late nights as did her husband. Fearful for her safety in their dangerous neighborhood especially when her husband wasn’t at home, Brown devised an early closed-circuit television system (CCTV).
Brown captured images of people, installed a two-way microphone to communicate with people outside, a remote to unlock the door from a safe distance, and a panic button to alert police or security she was in danger.
In 1969, she was granted a patent for the security system, the elements of which are still used today.
These women prove the adage that necessity is the mother of invention. Furthermore, how much better off are we today for their game-changing innovations?