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.“