Carroll Lamb, co-founder of The Institute of Black Invention & Technology, sits beside a mortar and pestle, which was used by West Africans and by slaves in Charleston, S.C., in rice harvesting. In his right hand, he holds an automatic lubricating cup invented by Elijah McCoy. In his left, he has an ISA Bus, a device enabling desktop computers to perform simultaneous functions, which was invented by Mark Dean, a vice president at IBM. (Photo courtesy of The Institute of Black Invention & Technology)
Quiet as it’s kept, black inventors have made history in many fields.
Drink manufacturers and consumers can thank Maryland native Anthony L. Dent for inventing the high-density polyethylene catalysts used to make six-pack can and bottle holders, as well as one-gallon milk and water containers.
An employee of Madame C.J. Walker, Marjorie Stewart Joyner invented the permanent waving machine in the 1920s to curl women’s hair, and later followed that up with the scalp protector to make the machine more comfortable for clients.
Born a slave in the year 1800, Lewis Temple moved to New Bedford, Mass., where he worked as a blacksmith and revolutionized the whaling industry by inventing a new type of harpoon that prevented whales from slipping loose.
The list goes on and on, and Carroll Lamb knows it all by heart.
Lamb is the executive director of The Institute of Black Invention & Technology. He and his wife, Sandra, founded the Amherst-based nonprofit organization — the only traveling museum in New England dedicated to the accomplishments of African American inventors, innovators and scientists.
“A lot of people have not heard of these inventors and in many cases they are not taught [about them] in the schools,” said Kantigi Camara, head librarian at the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute at Northeastern University, who has hired the traveling museum to bring its collection to Northeastern several times.
“When [people] come by and see it and touch it, then the information on that invention will linger with them longer and hopefully stay in their minds forever,” said Camara.
The Lambs decided to do something to raise awareness of the achievements and contributions of black inventors after they saw a black inventors traveling museum while visiting an African American arts event in Philadelphia 10 years ago. They realized they knew little about black inventors themselves, and fell in love with the idea of founding a museum in New England.
“From that point, we started putting together our own traveling museum,” said Lamb. “And it’s never complete, ’cause there are so many inventions out there that [have] been done by black people.”(p2)
The Amherst-based nonprofit's Web site features information about a host of black inventors, as well as the variety of showcases the traveling museum offers to schools, universities, community groups and other organizations. More »
One of Smith’s daughters, Georgina, married a fellow named George Franklin Grant. He invented the golf tee, was the second black graduate of Harvard Dental School and the first black to become a faculty member at Harvard University. More »
During a speech at the 2007 Cambridge NAACP Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, the jurist focused a portion of her remarks on the numerous contributions that black inventors and innovators have made to American society. More »