Home Headlines Science and Technology: African Inventors in the Americas

Science and Technology: African Inventors in the Americas


Inventor Lewis H. Latimer
inventor Lewis H. Latimer

As a teenager, Lewis H. Latimer received an opportunity to work for the Boston patent firm Crosby, Halstead & Gould. He worked his way up to chief patent drawing draftsman where he began drafting for Alexander Graham Bell’s patent application for the telephone.

In 1874, Lewis H. Latimer secured his first patent for an “improvement in water-closet for railroad-cars”. He moved from the Boston area to Connecticut where he joined the United States Electric Lighting Company, working on electric lighting innovations while he worked on his owned lamp designs. He would later join Thomas Edison’s company, which would become General Electric, and become a member of the legal department.

On February 17, 1891, Albert C. Richardson received Patent 446,470 for his  innovations in the food production, particularly improved churning processes. The American churn was traditionally a wooden appliance for making butter from cream skimmed from low milk. It was shaped like a barrel with a long wooden stick coming through a hole in the center top.

Albert C. Richardson’s improvements included installing glass panels on both sides of the churn to see the butter. This helped preps determine whether it was ready. He also included a plate inside the churn for the butter to be placed for easier removal. Richardson’s U.S. patents include the following:

  • 255,022, 3/14/1882, Hame fastener
  • 446,470, 2/17/1891, Churn
  • 529,311, 11/13/1894, Casket-lowering device
  • 620,362, 2/28/1899, Insect destroyer
  • 638,811, 12/12/1899, Bottle

Inventor Judy W. Reed
Judy W. Reed 1884 patent for dough kneading

Judy W. Reed received U.S. Patent No. 305,474, received September 23, 1884, for a hand-operated dough kneader and roller that allowed for improved mixing that was more evenly distributed when processed through the rollers with corrugated slates. Little is written about Reed’s life, but she has garnered the title of being the first African-American woman to receive a U.S. patent.

Joseph Lee received U.S. Patent No. 524,042 for a kneading machine invention on August 7, 1894. Lee’s time saving invention mixed and kneaded the dough and also replaced the need to hand roll dough.

Robert P. Scott invented the corn silker and obtained U.S. Patent No. 524,223 on August 7, 1894. Corn silk is the silk-like thread fibers on the inside of the green husks removed from corn-on-the-cob. Removing corn silk proved both time consuming and difficult. The R.P. Scott Corn Silker helped to make this process faster and more efficient.

John T. White obtained U.S. Patent No. 572,849 on December 8, 1896 for the first commercial lemon squeezer.White’s invention made it easier to squeeze all of the juice out of a lemon. It also separated the seeds and pulp from the juice, and prevented squirting.

African-American inventor: Lloyd Ray's dustpan
African-American inventor: Lloyd P. Ray’s dustpan

Lloyd P. Ray received U.S. Patent No. 587,607 on August 3, 1897 for a new and useful improvement in dust pans. Ray’s device included a metal collection plate that trash could be swept into, attached to a short wooden handle.

Alfred L. Cralle received U.S. Patent No. 576,395 on February 2, 1897 for an ice cream mold and ice cream scooper (disher). This made serving ice cream in perfect round portions to fit on cones.

Elbert R. Robinson received U.S. Patent Nos. 505,370, September 19, 1893, electric railway trolley and 594,286, November 23, 1897, casting composite or other car wheels.


FURTHER RESOURCES: Ohio State University’s Knowledge Bank: African American Patent Holders Database


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