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#BHM2023: 6 Black inventors that created life-changing contributions to society

The #BHM2023: Inventor Series will look at five Black inventors that transformed communities worldwide with technology and products.

#BHM2023: 6 Black inventors that created life-changing contributions to society
DID YOU KNOW?: A Black man invented the refrigerator. UNSPLASH PHOTO

Most people have never heard of them — the Black inventors who have made life easier for the everyday citizen. Moreover, Black North Americans have played an important role in shaping society and the landscape in which it thrives.

From the microphone to the fridge, Black inventors have developed innovations that have stood the test of time. And while some never received the credit or the financial compensation they deserved, Black Dollar Magazine is honouring the Black inventors who used their creative and curious minds to create change.

The #BHM2023: Inventor Series will look at five Black inventors that transformed communities worldwide with technology and products.

Garrett Morgan — the three-signal traffic light

Garrett Morgan, inventor of the three-signal traffic light and gas mask. JORDAN MAXWELL SCREENSHOT

The son of an enslaved parent, Garrett Morgan (1877–1963), only had an elementary school education, but that didn’t stop him from developing several inventions, one of which was the traffic light.

According to, the invention was inspired by an accident he witnessed in Cleveland, Ohio. So, he searched for a solution. Morgan added a yield component to the existing traffic lights, warning oncoming drivers of an impending stop. He took out the patent for its creation in 1923. It was granted to him the following year.

He also developed an improved sewing machine and a gas mask.

Sarah Boone — the ironing board

Sarah Boone, inventor of an improved ironing board. JORDAN MAXWELL SCREENSHOT

I can hear it now — the sound of my mother demanding that I iron my shirt before leaving the house. And if not for Sarah Boone (1832–1904), the task would be much more difficult.

The inventor of the ironing board created an improved design in 1892 and was the first Black woman to receive a patent. Originally, it was just a horizontal wooden block, patented in 1858. Boone’s board featured a narrower, curved design, making it easier to iron clothing.

Mary Van Brittan Brown — the home security system

Mary Van Brittan Brown, creator of the home security system in 1966. JORDAN MAXWELL SCREENSHOT

The Black nurse from Queens, New York, spent many nights alone in her home while her husband was away. It was the 1960s, and crime rates were high; the police were unresponsive and unreliable, according to So, she developed a solution to ease her mind — the home security system.

Developed in 1966, Brown (1922–1999) invented a system to use a camera that could slide into the peepholes of her front door. Then, the camera’s view appeared on a monitor in her home so she could survey unwanted visitors.

She even added features, including a microphone to speak to people at the door, a button to unlock it, and a function to call the police. Brown and her husband received a patent for the product in 1969.

Frederick McKinley Jones — fridges and refrigerated trucks

Frederick McKinley Jones, inventor of the refrigerator and approximately 60 other inventions. JORDAN MAXWELL SCREENSHOT

If it weren't for ‘ole Fred here, you’d be heading north to fetch ice to keep things cool. But, in all seriousness, thanks to Mr. Frederick McKinley Jones (1893—1961), we don’t have that problem. In the mid-1930s, the Black inventor, who had more than 60 patents throughout his life, invented the refrigerator and a roof-mounted cooling system that could be used to refrigerate goods on trucks.

Soon after, he received a patent for his invention in 1940 and co-founded the U.S. Thermo Control Company (now Thermo King). The company was critical during World War II, helping to preserve blood, food, and supplies during the war.

Jones also created a self-starting gas engine, a series of devices for movie projectors, and equipment for the box office that issued tickets and change. He also invented an air conditioner for military field hospitals and a refrigerator for military field kitchens.

Alexander Miles — automatic elevator doors

Alexander Miles, inventor of automatic elevator doors. JORDAN MAXWELL SCREENSHOT

When the daughter of Black inventor Alexander Miles (1838—1918) almost died when she fell down an elevator shaft, he knew he had to do something.

In 1887, he took out a patent for the solution. He created a device that automatically opens and closes elevator shaft doors, and modern elevators primarily follow his ideas.

The elevator shaft and doors had to be manually closed by passengers. Several accidents resulted from people falling down elevator shafts as a result of forgetting to do so.

James E. West — the electret microphone

Dr. James E. West, inventor of the foil electret microphone. JORDAN MAXWELL SCREENSHOT

Karaoke, speeches, and the podcasts we’ve come to enjoy would be lacklustre without the crystal-clear sound that comes through a microphone. Without Dr. James E. West (1931), the application wouldn’t exist. It was co-created by the Black inventor while working at Bell Labs in 1960.

West invented the foil electret microphone. It is considerably less expensive to produce than condenser microphones, according to The final version of the microphone was created two years later and, in 1964, was patented.

The new microphone was widely produced and utilized in hearing aids, tape recorders, telephones, and baby monitors in the following years after its invention.

Another edition of The #BHM2023: Inventor Series will be released on Feb. 9.