Actor Baron J. Littleton Jr., 31, was just a fourth grader in Detroit, Michigan when he first discovered that there were African American inventors.
“We had to do a book report on inventors,” Littleton recalled. “During my research, I discovered a black man by the name of Garrett Morgan who had invented the automatic traffic light. At the time, I was a safety patrol captain and I helped my fellow students cross the street, so I dealt with the traffic light everyday,” recalls Littleton. “I was astounded when I found out that a black man had created that invention,” Littleton said.
“The traffic light is in every city, county and state in the nation,” Littleton observed. “Morgan eventually sold the invention to General Electric for about $40,000, but I’m sure by now the records have been destroyed.”
Littleton said that he also discovered that Morgan also invented the gas mask, which saved many lives in World War II. “Pretty soon, I was going around telling everyone, ‘Did you know that a black man invented the traffic light and the gas mask?’ Littleton laughed.
The discovery sparked a fire in Littleton, who said that as he matured, he started to avidly collect and read about a number of African American inventors.
Littleton has written an informational book on African American inventors entitled “African American Inventions and Inventors.”
During his research, Littleton discovered that during the 19th century, over 225 patents were officially recorded by “Negroes,” but many were “separated” from their inventions and did not receive credit for them. It also did not help that many blacks during that time could not read or write, which made them unable to read official paperwork issued on their inventions.
Littleton also discovered that a black man, Richard Spikes, invented the automatic car directional signal, the brake for motor vehicles and the automatic car wash.
A black Philadelphia confectioner is credited as the “father of ice cream.”
Benjamin Banneker is credited with inventing the first watch used in America and many potato chip lovers would be surprised to discover that their favorite snack was invented by a black man, Hyram Thomas.
Golfers on the green angling for that perfect drive may be unaware that the golf tee was invented by African American George F. Grant in 1899.
African American women were also intrepid inventors. A woman inventor by the name of J. H. Hunter invented the portable weighing scale in 1896 that is used in post offices, businesses and hospitals today. C. O. Bailiff invented the shampoo headdress in 1898 that allows many women to get their hair washed in comfort.
Littleton’s goal is to get copies of the book into the hands of African American children. “I think it will change their lives to see examples that will inspire them,” said Littleton. “I want this book to help young people believe in themselves and dream, to know that they can achieve anything they put their mind to, regardless of their situation,” said Littleton.
Printed in a pocket book form that is about the size of a person’s palm, the book chronicles over 150 African American inventors.
Littleton is also attempting to inform African American youths about opportunities available to become caddies and a bat boys, two jobs he held in his youth that helped him innumerably in his career path. Littleton hopes that any youth interested in becoming a caddy or a bat boy to contact him for more information.
Baron Littleton’s web site can be accessed at author@yourlittleblackbook.net.