Former Slave Turned Inventor Patented Technology Still Being Used in Lawn Mowers Today

John Albert Burr

In May 1899, John Albert Burr, an African American inventor from Maryland, patented very innovative technology that is still being used today in modern-day lawn mowers. He did not invent the first lawn mower, but he did design a lawn mower with traction wheels and rotary blades that would not get easily clogged up from grass and weeds. He also drastically improved the lawn mower's design making it possible to mow closer to buildings and wall edges.

All in all, Burr held over 30 U.S. patents for lawn care and agricultural inventions. In fact, even today's mulching power lawn mowers are part of his legacy.

Born in 1848, he was enslaved along with his parents, but they were later released during emancipation. As a slave, John worked as a field laborer during his teenage years. After emancipation, his engineering talents were later recognized by wealthy Black activists who provided him with the opportunity to attend engineering classes at a private university.

During his studies, Burr began to see the opportunity to put his mechanical skills to work and started to make a living, repairing and servicing farm equipment and other machines.

He later moved to Chicago and also worked as a steelworker and filed his first patent for the rotary mower in 1898. Just one year later in 1899, his patent was approved by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

During the early 1920s, he was able to see the commercial success of his inventions and also received several royalties for his creations. He enjoyed traveling and lecturing and later died of the flu in 1926 at the age of 78.