African-American Inventors

Dr. Patricia Bath

Dr. Patricia Bath

Angelina Fowler, writer

It is clear by now that African Americans have made countless contributions to society. Many of the devices, inventions, or concepts that are integrated in our daily lives, or save lives every day, were created by someone in the black community.

For example, when you think of the light bulb, you most likely associate it with Thomas Edison. It is true that he created the first electric bulb, but it had been composed a carbon wire filament, typically made of bamboo, paper or thread. In Edison’s experiments the bulb only lasted for about 15 minutes, which was rather impractical. Lewis Latimer, an African American inventor who worked at a patent firm, desired to improve on Edison’s light bulb, and developed a way of encasing the filament within a cardboard envelope in order to prevent the carbon from breaking up and provide a much longer life to the light bulb, making them less expensive and more efficient. This also made it possible for electric lighting to be installed in homes.

It is impossible to know how many deaths couldn’t be prevented without the contributions of Dr. Charles Drew, an African American inventor who developed a method of separating and storing plasma, allowing it to be dehydrated for later use. His thesis, titled “Banked Blood” received a doctorate from Columbia University, the first awarded to a black student,  and his techniques were put to practice, creating the American Red Cross Blood Bank.

Dr, Patricia Bath became the first black female doctor to secure a medical patent after she invented the Laserphaco Probe, a tool that corrects cataracts during eye surgery. Her invention has saved countless people from going blind. She was also the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology, and the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the United States.

These are just a few of the many African American innovators whose contributions to society are still relevant today. They broke through barriers and proved stereotypes wrong.