This week we celebrate Black History Month here at Very Little Known Facts. This truly is the time when we look back at the important contributions that African-Americans have made, continue to make, and will undoubtably continually persist in making throughout the future.
Black history is, of course, an integral part of American history--just because there is a separate month to celebrate it does not mean that it is not equal to other histories. Where would we as a nation be without black culture, black literature, black music, and (ethnically) black humor? But what many people don't know is the contributions black inventors made by contributing their inventions to the world of inventions that exist. Read on and join our celebration because--and this is no longer a Very Little Known Fact--February is Black History month.
- RING FOR SERVICE: The late 19th century was an exciting and innovative time in America. Great social and technological upheavals were afoot; new, never-before-dreamt-of possibilities seemed to spring up everywhere across the newly re-united nation. Miriam Benjamin, a young schoolteacher from Washington, D.C., thought of a novel way to call for service at the touch of a button—literally. She applied for a patent for an invention she called the Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels, envisioning it as a way to summons such amenities as room service without leaving the comfort of a fireside seat. Later incarnations of her innovation would be used in the House of Representatives and as call buttons on airplanes. On July 7, 1888, Miriam became only the second black woman to receive a patent from the United States government.
- HAVE A SEAT: Nathaniel Alexander Re-invented the folding chair.
- WHO WAS JENNY? Railroads were dangerous back in the day. Andrew Jackson Beard, a black man and former slave named for a slave-owning president, was working as a yardy when an over-zealous driver crushed his leg between two railroad cars. The leg eventually had to be amputated. Attempting to create something positive out of his disability, Andrew worked hard to invent a new, safer way to join or “couple” railroad cars together. His invention, the Jenny Coupler, revolutionized the railcar coupling industry and saved many lives and limbs. He received a U.S. patent for the Jenny Coupler in 1897.
- Sarah Boone re-invented the ironing board.
- WHAT’S COOKING? CHEMISTRY! Lloyd Augustus Hall was an African-American chemist who made many groundbreaking contributions to the food chemistry industry. He invented the method of encasing of sodium nitrate and nitrite in crystals for preservation purposes. He pioneered the use of such popular ingredients as lecithin, propyl gallate, and ascorbyl palmite, as well as various protein hydrolysats. Hall even sterilized spices with ethylenoxide gas, an insecticide.
- William J. Ballow invented a combined hat rack and table in 1898.
- Jack Johnson was the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world from 1908 to 1915. He was vilified, persecuted, and at one point arrested for his two marriages to Caucasian women. Eventually he fled the country. Jack Johnson also patented a wrench on April 18, 1922.
- JUST IN TIME FOR VALENTINE’S DAY: John Lee Love re-invented the pencil sharpener. He dubbed it the "Love Sharpener."
- Lonnie Johnson worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Strategic Air Command, the Air Force, and NASA. He earned several degrees in nuclear physics and rocket science. He worked on the Galileo Mission to Jupiter, the Stealth Bomber, and invented the Super Soaker® squirt gun.
- GET PHYSICAL: Kevin Woolfolk patented "The Hamster Workout Wheel,” a device that records your pet rodent’s exercise.