Science, Inventions, Medicine, and Aerospace

Inventions and Patents

What are some early inventions of free blacks?

Unlike the restrictions on slave inventors, for free blacks, some recordings of their inventions do exist. Henry Blair (c. 1804–1860) of Glenross, Maryland, was long believed to be the first black to receive a patent, on October 14, 1834, for a corn (or seed) planter. The device was easier to operate than the crude planters that existed, and permitted seeds to be dropped in a checkerboard fashion. However, Thomas L. Jennings (1791–1859) is said to be the first black to actually receive a patent, for a dry-cleaning process, on March 2, 1821. He was a tailor and dry cleaner in New York City and an active abolitionist; he was the founder and president of the Legal Rights Association. Records fail historians, however, for the race of patent-seekers was rarely noted. There were many unheralded black inventors, including Augustus Jackson, who in 1832 perfected a better way to make ice cream, but his invention was not patented. Since the race of patent applicants was rarely recorded, the number of inventions that slaves or free blacks created cannot be determined with certainty.

Enjoy ice cream? Thank African American Augustus Jackson, who perfected a way to make ice cream, and also invented new flavors.


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