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History Makers- African American Inventors You Probably Haven't Heard Of

Updated on May 4, 2015

Jesse Russel Digital Cell Phone Pioneer & Inventor

Jesse Eugene Russel born April 26 1948 is an American electrical engineer, inventor & pioneer of the digital cellular phone. His innovative design of a base station for mobile radio mass telecommunications systems provided the foundation for mass cellular communication production. Russel who is dubbed the father of digital cellular technology has more than 30 years of experience & holds more than 70 U.S patents in the field of digital cellular technology, dual mode digital cell phones & digital software radio. He is currently the chairman of several mass communication boards such as the Director of the AT&T Cellular Telecommunication Laboratory (Bell Labs), Vice President of Advanced Wireless Technology Laboratory (Bell Labs), Chief Technical Officer for the Network Wireless Systems Business Unit (Bell Labs), Chief Wireless Architect of AT&T, and Vice President of Advanced Communications Technologies for AT&T Laboratories. Russell is currently an inductee into the National Academy of Engineering for his pioneering work in digital cellular communication technology.

Patrica Bath Laserphaco Probe Inventor

Patricia Era Bath born November 4, 1942 is an American ophthalmologist, scientist, inventor, academic scholar & humanitarian. She began her amazing rise to fame after graduating high school at the age of sixteen. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in chemistry from New York college in 1964. After relocating to Washington DC that same year to attend Howard University Medical School, she then received a doctorates degree in medicine in 1968. Bath later returned to her hometown of Harlem, New York to begin her internship at Harlem Hospital Center. While at this facility she developed an interest in ophthalmology mainly due to the lack of care that blacks & elderly patients received at the hospital which had no form of eye surgery available to it's patients during this time period. Bath also during this time completed a fellowship at Columbia University where ongoing research in eye surgery was taking place. She convinced her fellow professors at Columbia to began eye surgery care at Harlem, the first of it's kind. She went on to pioneer a worldwide discipline of community ophthalmology- a volunteer based outreach to bring necessary care to under-served populations which has now been adopted worldwide.

After completing her fellowship at Columbia, she became the first woman & African American to head an ophthalmology training program in the United States at New York University. She was also the first woman & African American to ever serve on the board of the prestigious Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA Medical Center. During her tenor there she faced extreme racism & sexism. Bath was offered an office in the basement of the facility next to lab rats but refused to take up such an insulting offer. She was eventually given a decent office space in the building. Bath was also severely limited in her ability to further her research in ophthalmology & laser eye surgery technology because her fellow colleagues refuse to take her ideas seriously. Driven by her desire to help others especially those patients she met during her stint at Harlem Hospital, Bath research took her to Berlin were she headed a team in laser eye surgery in 1983. As a chemist & scientist, she discovered lasers could dissolve human cataracts within minutes. Her discovery led her to invent a device that would allow lasers to be used in the removal of cataracts during eye surgery. Her ground breaking device which she dubbed the laserphaco probe was adopted in numerous countries in Europe, Asia & elsewhere in 1986 but because her device was ahead of its time it took a few more years for it to later be patented in 1988. In the United States, it was even more difficult because of her status as a woman & African American. Bath was the first African American woman to receive a patent for a medical purpose."The laserphaco probe is a device which quickly and nearly painlessly dissolves the cataract with a laser, irrigates and cleans the eye and allows the easy insertion of a new lens causing previous blind patients vision to be completely restored (". Bath invention has given many victims of cataract & previous blindness a new chance at life. She has been honored for her remarkable achievement in medicine by various organizations and she is currently the founder of The American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in Washington DC. Patricia Bath is the holder of 4 U.S patents.

Charles Drew-Blood Banks

Dr. Charles Drew (June 3, 1904-April 1 1950 ) was an American doctor, surgeon and researcher. He is best known for his development of large scale blood banks during World War II which save thousands of soldiers lives during this time period. He is also well known for his development of blood transfusions which continues to save countless lives around world today.

Thomas Elkins-Refrigerator for food/human copses & Improved toilet inventor

Thomas Elkins was a pharmacist, inventor and abolitionist from Albany New York. He would often work with local abolitionists to help former slaves escape re-enslavement. Thomas Elkins was a member of the Vigilance Committee. During his free time he would spend hours inventing various items for everyday usage. His best known invention was his 1879 Refrigeration Apparatus which was strangely also used to store human corpses. Before his invention during this time period, food was stored in container using large blocks of ice. Of course this method wasn't practical because the ice would quickly melt causing the food to go bad. Thomas invention allowed food and human copses to be chilled in a large apparatus using the evaporation of water method instead of ice. He was granted U.S patent #221,222 for his invention on April 11, 1879. He is also credited with inventing a chamber commode which consisted of a mirror, toilet and dresser.

George T Sampson-Clothes Dryer

George T Sampson (July 24, 1861-1902) was an American inventor. He is best known for his early invention of the clothing dryer. He was awarded U.S patent # 476,416 for his invention. He is quoted as saying "My invention relates to improvements in clothes-driers. The object of my invention is to suspend clothing in close relation to a stove by means of frames so constructed that they can be readily placed in proper position and put aside when not required for use." Sampson also invented a sled propeller which earned him U.S patent #312,388 February 17th, 1885.

This concludes my article on African American inventors. For more information on inventions by African Americans please visit your local library and pick up some history books related to the subject. With that said thanks for stopping by. Feel free to check out my chart and the youtube videos I have included with this article. Also, feel free to leave your comments below as always, I look forward to hearing from you.

Notable Black Inventors
Patent Numbers
Sarah Boone
ironing Board
Robert Flemmings Jr.
Otis Boykins
Electrical Resistor
Philip B Downing
Garret Morgan
Gas Mask
Sarah Goode
Folding Cabinet Bed
Frederick M. Jones
Air conditioning unit
Osburn .Dorsey
Door knob/ Door Stop
Lloyd P. Ray
Dust Pan
J.W Winters
Fire Escape Ladder


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