Seven Black Inventors Whose Patents Helped Shape American Life

Black inventors’ paths to securing a patent in the United States have historically been jammed with obstacles.

Before the abolition of slavery, the United States Patent and Trademark Office excluded slaves from owning patents. Because slaves themselves were considered property, they could not own property.

- Advertisement -

After the Civil War, black inventors faced widespread and virulent racism from white institutions that doubted their ingenuity and stood in the way of their success, Rayvon Fouché wrote in “Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation.”

Black Americans had limited opportunities to receive technical training, Mr. Fouché wrote. And professional organizations that were often vital for making business connections did not allow black people in their ranks.

Still, many black inventors have overcome these obstacles to secure their own patents — though the marketing of those products brought further challenges. With Black History Month nearing its end, we looked back at seven such innovators.

In the late 1960s, Marie Van Brittan Brown, who worked as a nurse, patented a invention that became a technological precursor to the modern home security system.


- Advertisement -