Since the founding of the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), more than 500 visionary men and women—who conceived, patented, and advanced the greatest technological achievements of our nation—have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Historical innovators like Thomas Jennings and Garrett Morgan paved the way beyond science and technology by becoming advocates for African Americans. Today, pioneers like Victor B. Lawrence continue to advance technologies and racial and economic inequalities..

Thomas Jennings, Dry Scouring (First African-American U.S. Patent)

Thomas Jennings invented a process he called “dry scouring,” becoming the first African-American to be granted a U.S. patent in 1821. His dry-scouring process was a predecessor to today’s dry-cleaning methods. His success as a businessman and patent holder helped him become a leader for civil rights in New York City. When Jennings died, Frederick Douglass wrote about his death.  He noted the importance of the patent Jennings received and that the patent recognized him as a “citizen of the United States,” a designation at the time that shocked many.

Garrett Morgan, Gas Mask & Three-way Traffic Signal

Garrett Morgan was a self-educated black man who produced a series of successful inventions in the beginning of the 20th century. His first well-known invention was the safety hood – a forerunner of the gas mask. In 1923, he patented one of his best-known inventions, the three-way traffic signal. Morgan went on to sell his patent to General Electric, which developed the electric version of the product. Morgan became an advocate for racial equality, establishing the first black fraternities in the country at Cleveland’s Western Reserve University.

Victor B. Lawrence, Signal Processing in Telecommunications

Victor Lawrence improved transmission for the modern Internet with his invention of signal processing in telecommunications. His invention has stimulated the growth of the global Internet and advanced data encoding, modem technology, silicon ship design, ATM switching and protocols, DSL and digital video. As a key player in Internet technology, Lawrence advocates bringing Internet access to the world’s poorest countries. He spearheaded efforts to lay high-capacity fiber-optic cable along the west coast of Africa.

The NIHF is the premier nonprofit organization in America dedicated to recognizing inventors and invention, promoting creativity, and advancing the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. Founded in 1973 in partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, NIHF is committed to not only honoring the individuals whose inventions have made the world a better place, but to ensuring American ingenuity continues to thrive in the hands of coming generations through its national, hands-on educational programming and collegiate competitions focused on the exploration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The NIHF is a Smithsonian Affiliate.

For more information, visit invent.org.