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A Tribute to Black History Month

Janelle Joseph

Black History Month is an annual celebration and recognition of the achievements of Black Americans in American history. The month was initially called Negro History Week, which was spearheaded by noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African-Americans. The celebration has been recognized nationally every February since 1976. From civil rights to the arts, to pop culture and more, African-Americans have contributed greatly to our economy, society and culture. So, to help wrap up this month’s celebration, here are eight things you see every day that you probably didn't know were invented by African Americans.


African American physician Charles Drew developed a way to process and preserve blood. His discovery was crucial to creating blood banks and assisting in the war effort during World War II. He was working on a blood bank for U.S. military personnel when he grew unhappy with the military’s request to segregate the blood and left his position.

George Crum is widely credited for coming up with the potato chip as we know it. While he was working as a chef at a resort, a disgruntled patron sent his French fries order back to the kitchen and complained that they were cut too thick. So, Crum made a new batch, cut them as thin as possible and added a bit of salt. Thus, potato chips were born.  

Garrett Morgan created a version of the modern three-way traffic signal.  

Shirley Ann Jackson made several telecommunications breakthroughs while employed with Bell Laboratories. Her scientific discoveries led to the touch-tone phone, caller I.D. and call waiting. Jackson was also the first black woman to graduate with a PhD from M.I.T.  

Computer graphics designer Marc Hannah co-founded Silicon Graphics, Inc. His computer programs were instrumental in the creation of special effects for films like “Jurassic Park,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and more.  

In 1891, Philip Downing invented the “street letter box,” which became the predecessor to the metal letter-drop mailboxes we use today.  

Marie Van Brittan Brown created a device in 1966 that would be the precursor to home surveillance as we know it. She connected a motorized security camera to a monitor, where one could view images from the camera.  

Lonnie G. Johnson invented the super soaker water gun. While working on an enviro-friendly heat pump, he invented the super soaker, and later started Johnson Research & Development and acquired some 100 patents.    

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