African American Inventors

Henry Boyd was born a slave in 1802 in Kentucky. He was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker when he was a youth. When Boyd became free in 1826, he went to Cincinnati and began building houses with a White carpenter. By 1833, he was worth more than three thousand dollars. He designed a bed frame with wooden bed rails that could be screwed into the headboard and the footboard, making the bed a stronger structure. When he sold the frames he made, he stamped his name on them. Boyd became one of the most successful furniture makers in Cincinnati.

A slave named Bradley constructed a working model of a steam engine around 1856. He also constructed an engine that could run a small boat. He was unable to read and writer, however, he worked as a laboratory technician at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.

J.W. Benton created a derrick for hoisting heavy weights. He received a patent on October 2, 1890. It is said that he walked from his home in Kentucky to Washington, D.C. to obtain his patent.


Philip Hubbard invented the water anemometer, which was used to measure water turbulence, which was based on the wind anemometer invented by Francis Beaufort. Hubbard received a B.A. in electrical engineering in 1946, a M.S. in mechanics in 1949 and a Ph.D. in mechanics and hydrology in 1954 from the University of Iowa.

Arnold Maloney was the first African American professor pharmacology in the U.S. He discovered the picrotoxin, a drug to treat victims of barbiturate poisoning. He was head of the Pharmacology Department at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s. He published over twenty articles in the U.S. and Belgium,.

Shelby Davidson, born on May 10, 1868, invented a mechanical tabulator, the forerunner of the adding machine. He graduated from Howard University in 1893.

William Hinton created the Davies-Hinton blood and spinal fluid test with Dr. J.A.V. Davies. He also created the Hinton test for syphilis, which is still used in some parts of the world. Hinton was a lecturer at Harvard Medical School in 1925, and the first African American to become a full professor there in 1949. In 1931, he established a medical technical school for low-income girls, which became one of the largest of its kind in the U.S.

Robert Pelham (1850-1943) invented a pasting machine, a tabulator and a tallying machine that was used to count populations.

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