Today, I’d like to honor the first African American to hold a patent, Thomas Jennings. He received a patent in 1821 for a process called dry-scouring, the predecessor of today’s dry cleaning. Although he was born a free man, some of his family was still enslaved and he used the money he made off of his patent to free them and to support abolitionist causes.
You can learn more about him on about.com’s article entitled “Thomas Jennings, the First African American Patent Holder.”
The first African American woman to hold a patent is believed to be Judy W. Reed. She developed an improvement on the existing dough kneaders that allowed for the dough to be more evenly mixed and distributed through the rollers. Her U.S. Patent No. 305,474 was issued in 1884. Nothing else is known about Ms. Reed. You can find brief blurbs about her on blackhistoryheroes.com’s article “Science and Technology: African Inventors in the Americas,” and on blackpast.org’s article, “Reed, Judy W.“
Today, I’d like to honor the first African American to be elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1957, Paul R. Williams. He was licensed as an architect in 1921 by the state of California and became the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923. Mr. Williams went on to design some pretty famous landmarks like MCA & Saks Fifth Avenue as well as some homes of the rich and famous like Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz and Frank Sinatra. You can read more about him on the webpage dedicated to him, http://www.paulrwilliamsproject.org.
The first female African American architect was Norma Sklarek. She was first licensed in 1954 by the state of New York on her first attempt at passing the exam. She, too, was honored with a Fellowship from the American Institute of Architects in 1980. And furthermore, was the first African American woman to establish and maintain an architectural firm. Some of her most famous buildings include the American Embassy in Tokyo, the Fox Plaza in San Francisco, and Terminal One at LAX. Check out her extensive biography here on biography.com’s article, “Norma Sklarek – Architect.”
Today, I’m honoring the first African American clothing designer (at least that I could find). Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave who bought her freedom, became the personal dress-maker for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln as well as the wife of confederate president Jefferson Davis. It is believed that some of her dresses still exist today. Check out this article from the Smithsonian, “The Story of Elizabeth Keckley, Former-Slave-Turned-Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker,” including some color pictures of those dresses!
For more modern day African American fashion designers, check out these articles from complex.com, “The 25 Greatest Black Fashion Designers,” and this one from thedailybeast.com, “The Best Black Fashion Designers of All Time.”
The first African American astronomer was Benjamin Banneker. He was born in 1731 and was largely self-taught in astronomy and mathematics. There is an extensive biography of him on biography.com titled, “Benjamin Banneker.”
While I couldn’t find an answer on the first African American woman astronomer, I did find that Dr. Beth Brown, Ph.D was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Michigan is this article, “Black Women Making Their Mark in Space & Science.”
For more on prominent African American astronomers, check out this webpage from the University of Buffalo.
Guion “Guy” Bluford was the African American in space. He launched into history on the Challenger space shuttle in August 1983. He went to space on four separate space missions. He also worked with the Columbia Accident Investigation Board to help determine the cause of the shuttle Columbia breaking up in 2003. More on him here on space.com, “Guion Bluford.”
The first African American woman in space was Dr. Mae Carol Jemison. Her first space launch was aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor on September 12, 1992. She’s a physician, engineer, and astronaut. And dancer! And holds nine honorary doctorates. An amazing role model. More on her here on biography.com, “Mae C. Jemison.”
And not to be outdone, but my favorite African American in space, Nichelle Nichols, from Star Trek! Ok, I know she didn’t really go into space, but she was one half of the first interracial kiss on TV. Nichelle Nichols Interview on the First Interracial Kiss on TV
Today, I’m appreciating the work of Jerry Lawson, the first African American game developer!
Mr. Lawson helped to develop the Fairchild Channel F, of which I had, honestly, never heard.
But it turns out that the Fairchild Channel F was the first home video game system with interchangeable games. Meaning that it was around before my brother got that Atari for Christmas when I was a kid!
After leaving Fairchild, Mr. Lawson also started his own video game developer called Videosoft.
You can read more about Mr. Lawson and the system that he helped to develop in this article on biography.com entitled, “Jerry Lawson.” And the article on lifewire.com titled “Jerry Lawson – First Black Video Game Professional.”
And for those interested in African Americans in the industry today, I recommend this article from blackenterprise.com, “Top 10 African Americans in the Video Game Industry.” And the article “5 African Americans Making an Impact in the Video Game Industry,” from atlantablackstar.com. While the same people are on both lists, the second link gives much more detail about their accomplishments.
Tomorrow: the first African American in space!
I have decided to put out posts recognizing African Americans from all walks of life in honor of Black History Month.
Today I wanted to honor African American pilots.
In my research, I found that there is a new face among the early minority pilots.
Per a Smithsonian article, “The Unrecognized First,” Emory C. Malik is now the first licensed African American pilot, obtaining his pilot’s license in March 1912.
This moves Eugene Jacques Bullard, who had been considered the first African American male pilot, to a different first. He is considered to be the first African American military pilot having graduated from flight training with the French military on May 5th, 1917. You can read more about him in the article, “The Black Swallow of Death,” from militaryhistorynow.com.
And the first African American woman pilot was Bessie Coleman who also earned her license in France in 1922. Of these three “firsts”, She was the only one who died as a result of an airplane accident. You can find more about her in this article from biography.com, “Bessie Coleman.”
Although perhaps the most famous African American pilots are the Tuskegee Airmen. You can learn more of their history in the history section of their webpage, “Tuskegee Airmen History.”
Tomorrow: First African American Game Designer!