Black History Month 2021: Amazing Inventors and Inventions

January 29, 2021 | Nerissa

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February 2021 is almost here and it's Black History Month. It is a time when great achievements from African-Canadian, African-American and other Black people of the world are celebrated. It is a time to learn about the rich history and to get a greater understanding of how the world has been positively impacted.

As a parent of a school-aged child, I like to take an extra pause in February to share with my daughter the important history of famous Black trailblazers, inventors, scientists and many more wonderful individuals. Marcus Garvey (a political activist, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur and speaker) once said:

"A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."

So I have been making it my mission to share with my daughter snippets of our heritage. As she is growing up, she can not only be informed but also gain confidence and go on to do amazing things in this world. 

For example, did you know that the potato chip, the microphone and even automatic doors were all invented by Black people?

But wait... there's more!

Dr. Patricia Bath (November 4, 1942 - May 30, 2019)

Patricia Bath
Photo credit: National Library of Medicine. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Patricia Bath was a woman who never let discrimination get the best of her. She was determined to be a doctor and help people. Her perseverance allowed her to earn the titles ophthalmologist, humanitarian and inventor. Patricia invented a device to help restore or greatly improve eyesight. It was called the Laserphaco Probe. This device was used during eye surgery to fix cataracts, which is when the eye lens gets cloudy and difficult to see. It is a serious condition that, if not treated, could cause blindness. With Dr. Patricia Bath's Laserphaco Probe, people worldwide were able to improve their eyesight! She also helped to start the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

Lonnie Johnson

Lonnie Johnson holding a Super-Soaker
"The original Super-Soaker prototype and its inventor, Lonnie Johnson." Photo by Communicator, used on a CC license.

Born October 6, 1949, Lonnie Johnson is a nuclear engineer who has worked for NASA. He has also worked on a B-2 Stealth Bomber aircraft, a space shuttle as well as the Galileo Mission. When he was not working on his many important assignments, he enjoyed inventing random things in his spare time. One day while he was working on a heat pump invention in his bathroom, he attached a hose with a nozzle on it to the sink. A stream of water shot straight across the room. It gave him the idea to design a water gun with the same ability to spray water at a far distance. This became the birth of the famous Super Soaker water gun that many children, families and friends enjoy best during hot summer days.

Garrett Morgan (March 4, 1877 - July 27, 1963)

Garrett Morgan
Photo credit: Unknown author. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Garrett Morgan was a businessman, an inventor and a community leader. He is best known for the invention of the three-position traffic signal, which later became the three-signal traffic light. In his lifetime, there were horse-pulled carriages, people on bicycles, buggies, cars and people walking in the street. After he witnessed a horrible accident, he was dedicated to make some type of traffic signal. His design was created to stand on the street corner and direct people when they had the right of way to cross, drive in their direction, slow down or just stop. Garrett's design has been modified and widely used in the United States, Canada and Britain. 

Marie Van Brittan Brown (October 30, 1922 - February 2, 1999)

Nurse Marie Van Brittan Brown lived in a neighbourhood where crime was high and she was tired of living in fear. With a bit of help from her husband, Marie was able to create the very first TV home security system. It was designed to have many cameras look through peepholes so that it could transfer images to a TV-screen type monitor. She also added a two-way microphone for the ability to talk to someone on the other side of the door. An alarm button was also added to the home security system to be able to contact the police in an emergency. Because of Marie, many homes to this day are protected by the upgraded version of her security system.

Philip B. Downing (March 22, 1857 - June 8, 1934)

Philip Downing was known for the invention of the "street letterbox" which is also known as the mailbox. He created this invention to save people from long travel to the post office. His design was made out of metal and had a safe door where the letters could be put in and be protected from theft or weather damage. His invention is the reason why we have mailboxes in our neighbourhoods and we don't have to make a long journey to the post office to send mail. 


Recommended Reads

Try one of these books to learn more about amazing Black inventions and inventors!

Patricia's Vision by Michelle Lord and Alleanna Harris

Patricia's Vision by Michelle Lord and Alleanna Harris

Whoosh! by Chris Barton and Don Tate

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton and Don Tate

African American Women Scientists and Inventors by Otha Richard Sullivan and James Haskins

African American Women Scientists and Inventors by Otha Richard Sullivan and James Haskins

What Colour is My World? by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld, Ben Boos and A.G. Ford

What Colour is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld, Ben Boos and A.G. Ford


Madam C.J. Walker Builds a Business by Denene Millner and Salini Perera

Madam C.J. Walker Builds a Business by Denene Millner and Salini Perera

Who Was George Washington Carver by Jim Gigliotti and Stephen Marchesi

Who Was George Washington Carver? by Jim Gigliotti and Stephen Marchesi


Great Black individuals such as these and many more have left their mark on our world through their life-changing inventions. It just goes to show how far a dream for positive change can take someone. 

As the brave Harriet Tubman once said:

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for stars to change the world."



Celebrate Black History Month with great books for all ages! Explore our recommended reading lists, online programs, podcasts and more.