America without Black labor, ingenuity, creativity, innovation and invention would be in the dark ages, and you take that anyway you want to. Granville Woods, Garrett Morgan, Lewis Latimer, and Elijah McCoy are a few inventors—genius tinkerers—who come quickly to mind when considering the roles they played in the development of modern America.
There is a tendency to discount the continuing role of Black inventors in science and technology in the digital age, but they are just as prominent, just as invisible now, as they were in the past.
Henry Sampson was born in 1934, and while he is not the inventor of the cell phone, he is the inventor of gamma-electric cell, which is a critical component of a nuclear reactor. Moreover, he holds several patents related to solid rocket motors and conversion of nuclear energy into electricity. Also, he is deemed a pioneer in the study of internal ballistics of solid rocket motors using high-speed photography.
Philip Emeagwali, among his loyal followers, has been widely acclaimed as the “father of the Internet.” While this is assertion is greatly exaggerated, Emeagwali, born in 1954, has a number of scientific awards in the realm of supercomputers that have gone a long way in analyzing petroleum fields.
Lonnie G. Johnson is a senior systems engineer at NASA. A graduate of Tuskegee University, Johnson invented the Super Soaker squirt gun, a toy that has generated more than $200 million in sales. He has more than 80 patents with 20 more pending.
Visually impaired people can thank Marc B. Auguste, Sr., his son and daughter-in-law for creating and developing a multi-purpose coin-organizer. The device also has a great utility for the sighted.
And Black women are in the mix as well, particularly Janet Emerson Bashen, the first African-American female to hold a software patent. She invented Linkline, which is a web-based application for EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) claims intake, and document management that is the focus of her company.
Another African-American woman inventor is Harlem-born Dr. Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist and surgeon who created Laserphaco, a laser-powered probe that allows doctors to rapidly vaporize cataracts. Among her other firsts is her position as surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center.
With more than a dozen patents to his credit, Dr. Thomas Mensah, a native of Ghana, is perhaps most proud of his invention of a guidance system for Patriot missile. He is also the chairman of Supercond Technology Inc. of Norcross, Georgia. His other inventions cover fields including fiber optics and guided vehicle systems and last year he was honored with Percy Julian Award. Julian (1899-1975) was a remarkable scientist who perfected the cortisone drug, creating a synthetic from soy beans.