Top Ten African American Innovations of All Time

Top Ten African American Innovations of All Time

GUEST POST from Art Inteligencia

Juneteenth, the celebration of the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans in the United States, is a time not only to reflect on the historical struggle for freedom and equality but also to acknowledge and celebrate the tremendous contributions African-Americans have made to society. Their innovations span various fields, transforming industries and improving the lives of countless individuals. As we commemorate Juneteenth, let’s revisit ten of the most remarkable African-American innovations, exemplifying creativity, resilience, and the spirit of human-centered innovation.

1. The Blood Bank

Case Study: Dr. Charles Drew

Dr. Charles Drew’s pioneering work in blood storage and transfusion has saved millions of lives worldwide. His innovation during World War II set the foundation for modern blood banks. Drew discovered methods to process and store blood plasma, which enabled the safe transportation of this life-saving resource. Despite the challenges posed by racial segregation, Drew’s contribution remains a testament to dedication and innovation, highlighting the importance of equitable medical practices.

2. The Automatic Elevator Door

Alexander Miles was awarded a patent in 1887 for his invention of automatic elevator doors. Before this, elevator doors had to be manually operated, which presented significant safety risks. Miles’ innovation enhanced the safety and efficiency of elevators, facilitating the development of high-rise buildings and revolutionizing urban architecture.

3. The Three-Light Traffic Signal

Invented by Garrett A. Morgan in 1923, the three-light traffic signal significantly improved road safety. Morgan’s design introduced a third signal to better manage pedestrian and vehicular traffic, reducing accidents and enabling the more orderly flow of traffic. This critical innovation laid the groundwork for modern traffic systems used worldwide.

4. Home Security System

Marie Van Brittan Brown, along with her husband Albert Brown, filed a patent for the first home security system in 1966. Her invention, born out of a desire for increased safety, included closed-circuit television and remote control door locks, forming the basis of modern security systems. This groundbreaking innovation has empowered countless individuals to protect their homes and loved ones.

5. The Personal Computer

Case Study: Mark Dean

Mark Dean, a key figure at IBM, played a crucial role in developing the personal computer, radically transforming how people work and interact. Dean’s innovations, including the co-invention of the IBM PC and the development of the first color PC monitor, have left an indelible mark on the technology industry. His contributions underscore the impact of technological advancements on productivity and connectivity.

6. The Gas Mask

Another revolutionary invention by Garrett A. Morgan, the gas mask, was patented in 1914. Initially designed for firefighters, Morgan’s gas mask proved instrumental in protecting soldiers during World War I, marking a significant advancement in occupational and environmental health and safety.

7. The Carbon Filament for Light Bulbs

Lewis Latimer’s innovation of the carbon filament significantly enhanced the longevity and efficiency of light bulbs. His work not only made electric light more practical and accessible but also contributed to the broader development of the electric power industry, illuminating homes and streets around the world.

8. The Super Soaker

Invented by Lonnie Johnson, a nuclear engineer and former NASA scientist, the Super Soaker became a cultural phenomenon and one of the most popular toys of all time. Johnson’s innovative approach to creating high-performance, pressurized squirt guns brought joy to countless children and adults while showcasing the creative application of engineering principles. For more, check out the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s interview titled “Perseverance and Prototypes

9. The Refrigerated Truck

Frederick McKinley Jones revolutionized the food and transportation industries with his invention of the portable air-cooling unit in 1940. This innovation allowed for safe, long-distance transportation of perishable goods, significantly impacting global trade, agriculture, and the availability of fresh food.

10. The Portable Electrified Incubator

Case Study: Dr. John H. Johnson

Dr. John H. Johnson’s development of the portable electrified incubator has played a crucial role in neonatology, particularly in developing countries. His innovation has provided critical care for premature infants, increasing survival rates and improving long-term health outcomes. This advancement emphasizes the importance of accessible healthcare technologies and their transformative potential.


These ten African-American innovations exemplify the creativity, resilience, and ingenuity that drive meaningful change and progress. As we celebrate Juneteenth, let us acknowledge these remarkable contributions and the visionaries behind them. Their work not only addresses specific challenges but also enriches our collective experience, fostering a more innovative, equitable, and inclusive world.

The spirit of human-centered innovation is embodied in these stories, reminding us that brilliance knows no boundaries and that the pursuit of better solutions can lead to transformative societal advancements.

Bottom line: Understanding trends is not quite the same thing as understanding the future, but trends are a component of futurology. Trend hunters use a formal approach to achieve their outcomes, but a methodology and tools like those in FutureHacking™ can empower anyone to be their own futurist and trend hunter.

Image credit: United States Patent and Trademark Office

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