Black Inventors and Innovators - Thomas Jennings
Thomas Jennings was born in 1791 in New York, New York and died in 1856 in New York, New York. Thomas Jennings is noted as the first Black person to ever receive a patent. Jennings was a tailor whose skills were well known throughout the Northeast. Customers would come from near and far to have their clothes altered or custom-tailored by Jennings. Jennings’ work was so touted that eventually he was able to open up his own shop in New York City.
Jennings’ customers were very happy with his work as a tailor but not happy when their clothes became dirty. There was no way of cleaning the material that Jennings used without ruining the clothing completely, so customers ended up having to throw their clothes away once they became dirty. Jennings decided that he needed to find a way to get his customers clothes clean so that his hard work would not go to waste.
Jennings started to experiment with different cleaning agents and solutions by mixing them and testing them on different materials. When he finally found the right combination that was able to clean his fabrics he called his method “dry-scouring” which we know today as dry-cleaning.
Jennings applied for a patent for his dry-scouring process in 1820 and he received his patent in May of 1821. With his patent Jennings was able to make a fortune and became quite wealthy. What Jennings used his wealth for was truly notable. The money that Jennings earned from his business and his patent was used for abolitionist causes and activities including freeing his family from slavery. In his plight to help others Jennings became the assistant secretary for the First Annual Convention of the People of Color.
Jennings should be remembered as more than the first Black person to obtain a patent, more than the man who invented dry cleaning and more than the man who acquired a fortune from his patent. Jennings should be remembered as a man who used his fortune to help the plight of others.