Black inventors have played an important role in the innovations of the country and the world over time. According to Brookings, African Americans received 50,000 patents during the industrial revolution alone. In celebration of Black History Month, we are highlighting five black inventors and their inventions that changed the world.

Lisa Gelobter

Lisa Gelobter is an African American entrepreneur, computer scientist, and inventor. Gelobter graduated from Brown University with a computer science degree and went on to work on numerous tech projects including Hulu. She is best known for being the creator of the animations that make up GIFs.

Today, Gelobter is the co-founder and CEO of tEQuitable, an organization aimed at making workplaces more equitable through technology. To fund the organization, Gelobter raised over $2 million in capital funding. This put her in the rare group of 34 black women who have raised over $1 million in venture capital funding.


Thomas Jennings

Thomas Jennings was an inventor and businessman from New York. He was born in 1791 and lived until 1859. During his life, Jennings served as a leader in the civil rights movement in New York City.

In 1821, Jennings became the first African American to be granted a patent. He invented a process called dry scouring, which was a method for cleaning clothes before dry cleaning was invented. Despite being in the time of slavery, Jennings was a free man so he was granted the patent after applying for it in 1820. Being one of the first to sign an oath declaring himself a citizen so he could receive his patent, Jennings set the stage for many black inventors who later obtained intellectual property protection for their inventions.


James Edward Maceo West

Born in Prince Edward County, Virginia in 1931, West is an American inventor and acoustician. He holds over 250 foreign and U.S. patents for the production and design of microphones and techniques for creating polymer foil electrets. He is most well known for inventing the electret microphone which has been instrumental in providing of low-cost and high-performance audio capture for smartphone technology. Learn more about his story here.


Frederick McKinley Jones

Frederick Jones was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1893. He was an American inventor and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for inventing automatic refrigerator equipment. Jones received an engineering license from Minnesota and repaired machines in the Army during World War I.

Jones eventually patented his portable refrigerator equipment invention. This invention was used for long-haul trucks carrying food. Eventually, Jones founded his own company, the U.S. Thermal Control Company, which helped to keep food and medicine cold during the second World War. In 1991, Jones was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology by President George H.W. Bush.


Dr. Patricia Bath

Dr. Patricia Bath is a laser scientist and ophthalmologist. In 1986, Dr. Bath invented the laserphaco, a device used to assist with cataracts. In 1988, she patented this device, becoming the first African American female doctor to receive a patent. In addition to this accomplishment, Dr. Bath was also the first African American female to complete her ophthalmology residency in 1973 and was the first female faculty member in the Department of Opthalmology at UCLA. 


Further Reading Related to “Black Inventors and Their Innovations”

Intellectual Property and Cultural Appropriation: A Reading List

Inventors Digest Featured Dr. Ayanna Howard Interview


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The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, provides access to empowering IP education for budding inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson. To learn more, visit