Tuesday, January 26, 2010

February is African American History Month

African-American History Month

By K. J. Prestwidge, PH.D

African-American History Month was created by Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Originally, it was a weeklong celebration which was later extended to a full month.

In celebration of African American History month we focus the spotlight on inventor, Lewis Howard Latimer. He was born in 1848 the son of George and Rebecca Latimer, two runaway slaves. In 1864 at the age of 16 Latimer, who lied about his age, joined the U.S. Navy at the time of the Civil War. Both a self-taught draftsman and inventor, Latimer executed patent drawings for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephones. In 1878 while working for the U.S. Electric Lighting Company, Lewis Latimer displayed his talent for invention by improving the carbon filament used in light bulbs. As result he joined the Edison Electric Light Co. in N.Y. and became one of the Edison Pioneers. As a result of his accomplishments at the Edison Co., he was sent to direct the electrification of a few cities including Montreal, London & Paris. In 1890, Van Nostrand Books published Latimer’s ideas on the basic principles of electricity. He died at the age of eighty in 1928. Early in his life he penned these words: “Good habits and good manners are powerful means of advancement that rarely fail to bring reward.” In 1995 his former home in Flushing, Queens was declared a New York City landmark.

Other African American Inventors of Note:

Jan Matzeliger (1852-1889) inventor of the Shoe Last, which automatically attaches the soles of shoes to the body of the shoe.

Elijah McCoy (1843-1929) devised methods for lubricating heavy moving machinery so that it no longer had to be stopped and cooled. At least 30 of his patents dealt with lubrication. The saying “I want the real McCoy“ meant that the person wanted the authentic McCoy lubricating system and not a copy.

George Washington Carver (1864? -1943), agricultural chemist who produced over 300 products from the both the peanut and the soybean. His discoveries stimulated the production of these crops and diversified the economy of the South.

Norbert Rillieux (1806 – 1894) African American who invented the multiple effect vacuum sugar evaporator used to refine sugar. His invention was patented in 1864 and was purchased and utilized by sugar refineries around the globe.

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