Inspirational Inventors & Leaders
Celebrating Americans Who’ve Greatly Impacted the Manufacturing Sector
There are many designs, inventions, and products that have forever changed, altered, and affected manufacturing over the years. Behind those inventions and products are hard-working, intelligent, and crafty makers. In addition to the maker, there are the executive leaders keeping the product rolling. With February being Black History Month, we wanted to showcase the talented and inspirational black inventors and leaders who’ve changed manufacturing with their work.
Charles Richard Patterson (1833 – 1910)
Charles was the founder of the first (and only) African American owned & operated automobile company, C.R. Patterson & Sons, which started as a carriage-making company.
Elijah J. McCoy (1844 – 1929)
Elijah developed an automatic lubricator for oiling the steam engine parts of trains allowing trains to run for longer without having to stop. Other lubricators were developed in imitation but were never as good as Elijah McCoy’s. As a result, railway engineers requested “The Real McCoy” thus bringing to life the popular expression, which means “the real thing”!
Lewis Howard Latimer (1848 – 1928)
Lewis invented the carbon filament for incandescent lightbulbs, (1881) changing the course of electricity forever! He wrote the first book on electric lighting and also managed and supervised all public electric light installation in New York City, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London. Additionally, Lewis assisted in drafting the patent for Alexander Graham Bell’s invention: the telephone. Other inventions of his include the first railroad car water closet (better known as toilet) in 1874 as well as the forerunner of air conditioners in 1886.
Jan Ernst Matzeliger (1852 – 1889)
Jan invented a shoe lasting machine which attached the shoe sole to its upper (called ‘lasting’) removing the requirement to do this by hand. This machine produced more than 10 times the amount shoemakers could produce by hand. Additionally, Jan consistently improved his invention until it could produce 700 pairs of shoes in one day.
George Washington Carver (1864 – 1943)
George developed numerous techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton. He also founded an industrial research laboratory in which he developed and promoted products and applications to popularize alternative crops used in his crop rotation method. In doing so, he learned of a need to educate farmers at their homes and thus designed and created a mobile classroom!
Madame C.J. Walker (1867 – 1919)
After experiencing hair loss which no product on the market could correct, Madame C.J. invented a line of African American hair products in addition to the Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories for the manufacturing of these and other products/cosmetics. In addition to this, her company trained women as sales beauticians. In doing so, Madame C.J became one of the first self-made, American millionaire women!
Charles W. “C.W.” Chapelle (1872 – 1941)
Charles was the first head electrician of US Steel, the founder of African Union Company Inc. and an airplane enthusiast. He’s well known for designing an award-wining, long-distance airplane, being the only African American to display a plane at the 1911 First Industrial Airplane Show. In addition, Charles was the Vice President of the first African American airplane company!
Frederick McKinley Jones (1893 – 1961)
One of the very fun facts about Frederick is that he designed and built a race car that not only beat other automobiles in races, but also once beat an airplane! In addition to this feat, he designed a series of devices that allowed silent movie projectors to use talking movie stock. However, he’s best known for inventing the first automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks and railroad cars (mobile refrigeration units). These mobile refrigeration units led to the formation of Thermo-King Corp. and revolutionized the availability of fresh produce at anytime, anywhere.
Otis Frank Boykin (1920 – 1982)
Otis invented electrical resistor technology which is still, to this day, used in TVs, radios, computers, pacemakers, and guided missiles! Not only did this technology change electronics physically, but it also significantly reduced the cost of making the devices. In addition, Otis created the electrical capacitator, a burglar-proof cash register, and a chemical air filter.
Craig Arnold (1951 – )
Craig is currently the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Eaton Corporation. He previously held the title of Corporate Vice President and President for GE Lighting Services Ltd. and GE Plastics. He is a strong advocate of diversity, equality, and innovation in manufacturing, corporations, and executive leadership roles.
Marian Rogers Croak (1955 – )
Marian is the developer of Voice over Internet Protocol/IP (VoIP) – a method and group of technologies used to communicate through voice, fax, text, etc. over the Internet. This changed the way humans communicate forever! She is currently the Vice President for Engineering at Google.
Mark E. Dean (1957 – )
Mark has made many contributions over the year in the area of Computer Technology. He is a major contributor to the invention of the color PC monitor and the gigahertz chip. In fact, he holds three of the original nine IBM company patents. Additionally, Mark co-invented the Industry Standard Architecture System Bus which allows devices such as printers and monitors to be directly plugged into computers.
Alicia Boler Davis (1972 – )
Alicia is the first black woman to work as a Plant Manager for General Motors (GM). Over the years, she did many things at GM, including working as Executive Vice President of Global Manufacturing! In her 25 years at GM, she found herself not only managing factories, but also negotiating with unions, overseeing new car model development, and working through recalls. She is currently with Amazon as the first black woman in a Senior Vice President role.
Check out the following link to learn more about Black History Month, written by Daryl Michael Scott, a Professor of History at Howard University and the Vice President of Program at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
Want more history? Read our post on Women’s History Month!
About the Author
Kim Mooney, Technical Manager & Coach