Over the course of American slavery’s nearly 250-year history, many slaveholders attempted to take credit for their enslaveds’ inventions, and, as such, there’s no way of knowing exactly how many or, in some cases, which creations should actually be credited to Black inventors.
While the law never explicitly prohibited Black inventors from applying for patents, those born into slavery were not considered American citizens at the time, and enslavers actually legally owned “the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual.”1
Not until 1821 did Thomas L. Jennings — an emancipated enslaved person — become the first African American to be granted a U.S. patent. His status as a freedman (and, therefore, a citizen) provided the loophole he needed to circumvent the suppression of enslaved ownership of their own intellectual property.
View the slideshow below for other inventions credited to Black Americans.
- Nascimento*, M. L. F. (2018, June 13). Textile Science Engineering Journal: Fashion technology. Current Trends in Fashion Technology & Textile Engineering. Retrieved January 27, 2023, from https://juniperpublishers.com/ctftte/CTFTTE.MS.ID.555627.php
- Avery, B. P., & Leanne, N. (2022). Black men in science: 15 inspiring people you should know: A black history book for kids. Rockridge Press.
- Hudson, W. (2003). Book of black heroes: Scientists, Healers, and inventors: An introduction for young readers. Just Us Books.
- Pellum, K. B., Conner, R. A., & Morris, K. (2019). Black women in Science: A black history book for kids. Rockridge Press.
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