The Lambs began going to antique stores, shopping on eBay, looking up patent information on the Internet and trying to find sources that could tell them more about the most prominent black inventors in American history.
A year later, they had enough information, original inventions and replicas to create their own traveling museum, which they offer to schools, universities and community centers.
The event can be customized to the size of the host location and number of people expected, according to Lamb.
“We take everything [we have],” he said, before explaining that their exhibits can fill up to 26 6-foot tables.
“It takes us two hours to set it up and another two hours to take it down,” he added.
At public and private schools, Lamb presents a smaller version of the show, called the “Traveling Trunk,” for up to 60 students. For 45 minutes, he talks about the life and work of 15 black inventors from the time of slavery to the present day.
“We have the inventions with us,” he said. “[Students] get a chance to see them up close [and] to handle some of them.”
At larger events, Lamb sets up The Black Inventors Showcase Exhibit, with more than 100 inventions, replicas, representative models, patent drawings, photographs, newspaper articles and biographies.
First, he explains the difference between an invention and an innovation.
“An invention is something new and novel,” he said. “An innovation is an improvement of an invention.” It’s the difference between a chair and a rocking chair, for example.
“Somebody invented the chair and somebody said, ‘I want to make it better,’ so they put rockers on it and it became a rocking chair,” he said. “Most things today are innovations.”
Then Lamb starts talking about inventions and the people behind those great ideas. Most times, he said, he starts by talking about the rice industry in South Carolina during slavery.
“Rice came from West Africa with the slaves,” he said.
He also cites Dr. George Franklin Grant, a black dentist from Boston who invented the golf tee in the 1890s.
“He loved to play golf, but he didn’t like having to create a little mount of sand to tee the ball off [the] lawn,” said Lamb. “So he invented and patented the golf tee, and it’s the same tee used today. He never sold it. He just gave it away to people he knew who loved to play golf.”
Joel Williams is one of the contemporary inventors that Lamb always talks about. Noticing that his 2-year-old sister would put her shoes on the wrong feet, Williams — at the time just 9 years old — invented a button that attaches to the shoelace or to the Velcro strap of a shoe.
When somebody presses the button, a voice says, “This is your left shoe” or “This is your right shoe,” depending on which shoe it is. The voice can be selected to speak in either English or Spanish. For his “SMARTBUTTON” design, Williams earned recognition as the 2007 Teenpreneur of the Year, an annual award presented by Black Enterprise magazine.
The traveling museum has now been showing inventions in New England for almost 10 years. Last summer, it traveled twice to Bay Path College in Longmeadow. Its next travel is scheduled for Feb. 19, when a full presentation will be set up for a return engagement at Northeastern’s O’Bryant African American Institute, to celebrate Black History Month.
The Lambs are now looking to schedule more exhibitions, but with the weak economy, Carroll Lamb said, opportunities have become scarcer of late.
Another challenge, he added, is persuading people that the study of black history needn’t be limited to the month of February.
“February gets to be overloaded and the rest of the year gets quiet,” said Lamb, who would like to see people talking about black history all year long.
“History,” he said, “goes on all the time.”
To find out more about The Institute of Black Invention & Technology, go to www.tibit.biz.
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 »