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African American Inventors

Click here to learn more about George Washington Carver.
George Washington Carver
Betsey Graves Reneau
Oil on canvas, 1942
National Portrait Gallery, transfer from the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, gift of the George Washington Carver Memorial Committee to the Smithsonian Institution, 1944
Information or research assistance regarding African American inventors is frequently requested from the Smithsonian Institution. The following information has been prepared by the Office of Visitor Services's Public Inquiry Mail and Telephone Information Service Unit in cooperation with the Anacostia Community Museum, Office of Education, to assist those interested in this topic. All information on price and availability of materials was current as of August, 1992 but is subject to change.

A Selected Annotated Bibliography on African American Inventors

Adams, Russell L. Great Negroes Past and Present. Chicago: Afro-Am Publishing Co., 1964.
A pictorial-biographical history of famous African Americans.

Bedini, Silvio A. The Life of Benjamin Banneker. 1972. Reprint. Rancho Cordova, CA: Landmark Ent., 1984.
The life and accomplishments of Benjamin Banneker, African-American surveyor, astronomer, inventor.

Baker, Henry Edwin. The Colored Inventor; a Record of Fifty Years. 1913. Reprint. North Stratford, NH: Ayer, 1969.
A pamphlet that provides a detailed listing of early black inventors and their patents, covering the period 1870-1920. Baker was an Examiner of the U.S. Patent Office.

Douty, Esther M. Forten the Sailmaker; Pioneer Champion of Negro Rights. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1968.
An illustrated narrative that chronicles James Forten's life as a champion of black rights as well as his maritime innovations.

Haber, Louis. Black Pioneers of Science and Invention. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1970.
Biographies of noted African-American inventors, illustrated with examples of patent drawings.

James, Portia. The Real McCoy: African-American Invention and Innovation, 1619-1930. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.
Catalogue from the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum exhibition, chronicling the struggles and triumphs of black inventors. Includes Benjamin Banneker, Elijah McCoy (because of whom the term "the real McCoy" originated), Jan Matzeliger (inventor of the shoe lasting machine), Garrett Morgan (inventor of the yellow caution light that is part of traffic signals), slave inventors, Washington, D.C. inventors. Patent illustrations.

Jenkins, Edward S., ed. American Black Scientists and Inventors. Washington, DC: National Science Teachers Association, 1973.
The lives and accomplishments of George Washington Carver, Garrett Morgan, Benjamin Banneker, and other scientists and inventors are examined.

Klein, Aaron E. Hidden Contributions: Black Scientists and Inventors in America. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1982.
An account of African-American contributions to the scientific and technological history of America.

Logan, Rayford W. and Michael R. Winston, eds. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1983.
Biographies of noted African Americans, including inventors.

Van Sertima, Ivan, ed. Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Pubs., 1983.
Included are 2,000-year-old metallurgy technology, astronomical practices, navigational techniques of ancient Africa, and black inventors and innovations of the modern era.

Selected Films and Videos

Benjamin Banneker: Man of Science. 9 min. Color. 16mm.; film rental, $7.75, plus shipping and handling.
Portrays the life and accomplishments of astronomer, mathematician, clock maker and almanac writer Benjamin Banneker. Recommended for intermediate and junior high school students.

Media and Teaching Resources
Indiana University
Bloomington, IN 47405-5901
Telephone: (800) 552-8620

From Dreams to Reality: A Tribute to Minority Inventors. 26 min. Color. 16 mm. film; VHS video. Free loan.
Narrator Ossie Davis shows a traffic signal, a gas mask, bleach, the process for preserving blood and other significant contributions of minority inventors to American science and technology. Recommended for secondary school students and above.

Office of Public Affairs
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
P. O. Box 1450
Alexandria, VA   22313-1450
Telephone: (571) 272-8400

George Washington Carver. 11 min. Color. VHS, 1/2" video purchase, $69.95.
Uses historical footage on the life and work of Dr. Carver to focus on his role as an innovative scientist who encouraged growing the peanut to enrich the soil. Recommended for intermediate school students and above.

Films for the Humanities
P.O. Box 2053
Princeton, NJ 08543
Telephone: (800) 257-5126

Two Dollars and a Dream. 66 min. Color. 16mm. film rental, $85; 16mm film purchase, $850. VHS, 3/4", and Beta video rental, $85; all video sales, $495.
Interviews and historical photographs document the life and career of America's first black millionairess, beauty supply manufacturer and philanthropist Madame C.J. Walker. Recommended for secondary school students and above.

Filmmaker's Library
124 E. 40th Street
New York, NY 10016
Telephone: (212) 808-4980

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