5 Black Inventors Who Made Their Mark on Society

Garrett Morgan, inventor of the T-shaped pole traffic signal

Everything we use in our day-to-day life was once just an idea. It’s easy to forget the people who made these concepts a reality, but their legacies are undeniable. In celebration of these important figures, we’ve created a list of Black inventors who have made an impact on the world.

1. Garrett Morgan

Although Morgan didn’t first create the traffic signal, he made an important improvement to the system. The red and green lights of the original signal didn’t provide enough safety. By patenting his own design - a T-shaped pole - in 1922, Morgan was able to add a yellow light to stand between the two others. This tweak to the previously inefficient system allowed travelers to clear the intersection before the signal changed.

2. Phillip Downing

You used to have to make the journey to and from the post office if you wanted to send a letter. Enter Philip Downing. In 1891, he conceptualized what would later become the modern mailbox. His design was a four-legged metal box resembling the blue collection boxes we see today. This creation is what allows us to send and receive letters with ease.

3. Marie Van Brittan Brown

Marie Van Brittan Brown, a nurse, and her husband Albert, an electrician, shared very different work schedules. Police response was slow in their neighborhood, and Brown was nervous to be at home alone. In 1966, Brown created a security system featuring cameras that displayed images on a television monitor. Her creation even included an early form of the panic button. The patent for this invention was approved in 1969, and the invention continues to influence home security systems today.

4. Otis Boykin

When Otis Boykin found himself unable to complete college due to the expense, he turned to inventing instead. Boykin’s designs influenced many everyday items, such as televisions and computers, but perhaps his greatest contribution was his improvements to the pacemaker. He invented a control unit that used electrical impulses to help create a steadier heartbeat. His design was not only more reliable, but also more cost-efficient as well.

5. George Crum

The invention of the potato chip was an accidental - and groundbreaking - invention. Legend says that when Crum worked as a chef in the 1850s, a customer sent back a plate of French fries for being too thick. Annoyed, Crum sliced the potatoes for a new batch as thinly as possible and fried them until they were extremely crisp. The dish was an instant success. Soon enough, Crum’s creation was seen on plates everywhere.