PIONEERS, Inc., a subsidiary of the Hiram and Celia Ray Foundation, is a non-profit organization specializing in the research of Black Scientists and Inventors and dedicated to the preservation of Black American history and culture.



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The aftermath of the Civil War brought tremendous growth to American Industries. Much of this was made possible by the inventions of Black Americans. By 1913, an estimated 1000 inventions had been patented by Black men and women in such fields as industrial machinery, rapid transportation and electrical equipment.

The overall contributions of these Black Americans to science and invention is so extensive that it is not possible to live a full day in any part of the United States, or the world in general, without reaping the benefits of their contributions. They have, in fact, revolutionized many industries and made contributions that boosted America's economy.

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Benjamin Banneker

The first president of the United States, George Washington, and his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, were in an uproar because L'Enfant, the white man they hired to plan the outline for the new capital, Washington, D.C., became angry with them, packed all of his plans and went back to Europe. Benjamin Banneker was one of the men working with L'Enfant. Banneker was able to recall every detail of L'Enfant's blueprints, so the city of Washington, D.C. was laid out without much delay and completed. Banneker also produced the first clock ever built in the United States, in 1753. Banneker's clock kept perfect time, striking every hour for more than forty (40) years. People came from all over the country to see this clock.

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Archie A. Alexander

Born in Ottumau, Iowa in 1888, Archie A. Alexander attended the University of Iowa, receiving a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering in 1912. In addition to his scholastic achievements at the University, Alexander distinguished himself as an outstanding linesman, earning the name "Alexander the Great."

Following graduation, Alexander became a design engineer for a Des Moines bridge company. In 1914 he formed his own engineering firm, which operated until 1929. In that year, he and a former classmate joined forces and formed the engineering firm of Alexander and Repass, a business which ultimately became highly respected in engineering and architectural circles.

Among their many achievements, Alexander and Repass built the Tidal Basin Bridge in Washington, DC, an airfield in Alabama, a million dollar sewage disposal plant in Grand Rapids, Michigan and a number of roads and bridges throughout the east and west.

The height of Alexander's career was reached when he was appointed to the post of Territorial Governor of the American Virgin Islands in 1954. Unfortunately, failing health forced him to resign, and he died in 1958.

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Sarah Boone

Sarah Boone, a Black female inventor, Sarah Boone, was awarded a patent for the Ironing Board from the United States Patent Office in Washington, DC on April 26, 1892, under patent number 473,653.

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John J. Stanard

John J. Stanard, of Newark, New Jersey, was awarded a patent for the Refrigerator from the United States Patent Office in Washington, DC under patent number 437,937 on October 2, 1890.

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Lewis Howard Latimer

Lewis Howard Latimer was a major contributor to the invention of the Light Bulb and all of its uses. In 1881, Latimer invented a carbon filament for light bulbs, without which bulbs could not emit light and would not have the great commercial use that they have today. Mr. Latimer was born at Chelsea, Massachusetts, on September 4th 1848. After serving in the Civil War aboard the U.S.S. Massoit, he returned to Boston, where he worked as an office boy for a company of patent lawyers. While there, he worked his way up to the position of chief draftsman. In 1876, Latimer met Alexander Graham Bell. Some say it was Latimer who created the drawings and prepared the application for the telephone patents of A. Bell.

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Jan Ernst Matzeliger The Shoe Maker

Jan Ernst Matzeliger revolutionaized the shoe industry with his invention of the Shoe Lasting machine. This invention was recorded in the United States Patent Office in Washington, DC under the patent number 423,937 on March 23, 1890. Matzeliger was born in Paramaribo, Surinam (Dutch Guiana), on September 15, 1852. His mother was a native Black and his father was Dutch. At the early age of 10, young Matzeliger went to work in a government machine shop as an apprentice. He showed a unique talent for mechanics, and layed the ground work for his invention 20 years later. He signed on a merchant ship at age 19 as a crew member and, after two years of sailing, debarked at Philadelphia and took up an apprenticeship as a cobbler of shoes. Then, in 1876, he moved to Massachusetts, where he worked at a shoe manufacturing factory in the town of Lynn. While there were various machines in the shoe making industry, there was no machine for connecting the upper section to the sole of the shoe.... it was done by hand. Matzeliger suggested that this stage of the job could be done by machine. Ridiculed and told it was impossible, Matzeliger worked persistently for 12 years, and proved he was right by presenting the machine that did the job. With his new invention, the United Shoe Manufacturing Company was able to rapidly drive competitors out of the shoe making business, and eventually gained a monopoly of 98% of the shoe machinery business. This amazing young genius was not to enjoy his triumph. Close confinement and overwork had undermined his health. Matzeliger was stricken with tuberculosis and died two years later, in September 1889, at the age of thirty-seven (37). Jan Ernst Matzeliger.

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Alice Parker

Alice Parker, a Black inventor, was awarded a patent for the Gas Furnace on March 29, 1919. [Top][More Black Studies]

Thomas J Martin

Thomas J Martin, a Black inventor, was awarded a patent for the Fire Extinguisher on March 26, 1872. His invention is listed in the U. S. Patent Office in Washington, DC under patent number115,603.

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William B. Purvis

William B. Purvis, of Philadelphia, invented a machine for making Paper Bags in 1882. He also received three (3) patents on Electric Railway, one on a Fountain Pen, another on a Magnetic Car-Balancing device and another for a Cutter for Roll Holders.

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Joseph Hunter Dickerson

Another very interesting instance of an inventor whose genius for creating new things is constantly active, producing results that express themselves in terms of dollars for himself and others is that of Mr. Joseph Hunter Dickerson, of New Jersey. Mr. Dickerson's specialty was in the line of musical instruments, particularly the piano. He worked consistently for fifteen years (15) to invent devices for automatically playing the piano. The company with which he is identified is one of the largest corporations of its kind in the world.

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Granville T. Woods

Granville T. Woods is holder of more than 20 patents for industrial appliances, including the Telephone Transmitter (1885), which he sold to Alexander Graham Bell. Woods' inventions relate principally to electrical subjects, such as telegraphic and telephone instruments, electric railway and general systems of electrical controls. Woods also received several patents on means for transmitting telegraphic messages between moving trains. The records of the United States Patent Office show that, for valuable considerations, several of Mr. Woods' patents have been assigned to the foremost electrical corporations of the world, such as the General Electric Company of New York and the American Bell Telephone Company of Boston. These records also indicate that he followed other lines of creative thought; one of his other inventions being an incubator, another a complicated and ingenious amusement device, a third a steam boiler furnace and yet another mechanical brake. Mr. Woods, described by the Chicago Tribune in 1919 as the Greatest Electrical Inventor in the world, is perhaps the best known of all the Black inventors. In passing away, he left us the rich legacy of a life successfully devoted to the cause of progress.

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Elijah McCoy

Elijah McCoy, of "the real McCoy" fame, had a total of sixty-seven (67) inventions, forty-six (46) of which were for lubrication. In 1872, McCoy obtained his first patent on an automatic lubricator for the continuous operation of certain motors and machines.

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There are hundreds of equally talented and inventive Blacks working in laboratories today nationwide. Many of their innovations and creations have drawn the attention of the scientific community. But will their contributions continue to be anonymous because they are Black? While competition for public notice and fame is more intense now than before, the same flame that sparked the creativity and genius in Benjamin Banneker, George Washington Carver, Lewis Latimer, Granville T. Woods and countless others--- will burn just as brightly today.

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