Black History Innovators

Hello there! Welcome to this year’s edition of Black History Month. I know that we’re getting started a little later than we wanted, but for good reason. If you check out my #DayOfLight post from yesterday, you’ll know why!

With that being said, we’re highlighting Innovators this week, and we’re going to start with two.

Thomas Jennings and Judy W. Reed

Thomas Jennings

Thomas Jennings, born in 1791, is believed to have been the first Black inventor to receive a patent for an invention. He was 30 years old when he was granted a patent for a dry cleaning process. Jennings was a free tradesman and operated a dry cleaning business in New York City. His income went mostly to his abolitionist activities. In 1831, he became assistant secretary for the First Annual Convention of the People of Color in Philadelphia, PA.

Slaves were prohibited from receiving patents on their inventions. Although free Black inventors were legally able to receive patents, most did not. Some feared that recognition and most likely the prejudice that would come with it would destroy their livelihoods.

He used the first money that he made to go back and purchase his family out of slavery and support the abolitionist movement.

Little is known about Judy W. Reed, considered to be the first African American woman to receive a United States patent.

In January of 1884, Reed applied for a patent on her “Dough Kneader and Roller.” The application was for an improved design on existing dough kneaders. Reed’s device allowed the dough to mix more evenly as it progressed through two intermeshed rollers carved with corrugated slats that would act as kneaders. The dough then passed into a covered receptacle to protect the dough from dust and other particles in the air.

On September 23, 1884, Reed received Patent No. 305,474 for her invention. There is no record of her life beyond this document.

Since women sometimes used their first and/or middle initials when signing documents, often to disguise their gender, and patent applications didn’t require the applicant to indicate his or her race, it is unknown if there are earlier African-American women inventors before Reed.

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