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Innovation on Display

Breaking Barriers: Honoring Extraordinary Black Inventors

Black inventors have changed the world through science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. However, many individuals have not been given the proper credit, benefits and accolades they rightly deserve.

Because the Patent Act of 1793 and later legislation required U.S. patent applicants to be American citizens, Black inventors who were enslaved were automatically barred from receiving proper recognition and protection for their innovations. While legislation following the Civil War provided increased opportunities for Black Americans, discrimination and financial inequality continued to create both roadblocks and hardship.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, in collaboration with the Black Inventors Hall of Fame (BIHOF), has developed a new exhibit that seeks to honor and share the stories of Black inventors, including NIHF Inductees, who have helped push society forward.


Artifacts on Display

Within the Breaking Barriers exhibit, visitors are treated to a collection of artifacts that honor the ingenuity of Black inventors. These items include:


Newspaper clipping and photograph detailing Gladys West’s work on geodesy modeling

During her more than 40 years of service working at the Naval Weapons Laboratory and Naval Surface Warfare Center, Gladys West went from verifying calculations to managing the development of the first satellite capable of remotely sensing oceans. Detailing just a few of her many accomplishments, these articles feature the team that worked on geodetic modeling under her leadership.

NIHF Inductee Joseph Lee’s breadcrumber

Troubled by the enormous amount of unsold bread being discarded by restaurants, NIHF Inductee Joseph Lee invented the breadcrumber to grind the bread into breadcrumbs. The invention was sold to the Goodell Co., a manufacturing firm located in Antrim, New Hampshire, and owned by the state’s former Gov. David H. Goodell. Machines like the one on display were purchased primarily by bakeries, hotels and restaurants.

NIHF Inductee Granville T. Woods’ Black Inventors Hall of Fame Trophy

On loan from the BIHOF, this trophy recognizes the contributions of prolific inventor and NIHF Inductee Granville T. Woods. Woods developed the railroad telegraph, a device that transmitted messages through static electricity between moving trains. Additionally, he created an overhead conducting system for rail and trolley cars to run on electric current instead of steam power. Woods is the first official BIHOF Inductee.

Computer using NIHF Inductee Mark Dean’s microcomputer system with bus control

NIHF Inductee Mark Dean co-invented a microcomputer system that enabled the use of plug-in subsystems and peripherals including speakers, scanners, video gear and disk drives. The computer on display includes various peripherals that are now commonplace, including a hard drive and keyboard. This computer represents the style and functionality of the first IBM system that utilized Dean’s innovation.

Visit Our New Exhibit!

In addition to 30 NIHF Inductees, this inspiring exhibit highlights the stories of groundbreaking Black inventors including Sarah E. Goode, one of the first Black women to be granted a U.S. patent, and Lanny Smoot, a Disney Research Fellow who is working on the next generation of interactive visual and robotic displays.

To learn more about the NIHF museum, we invite you to visit our website and plan your visit today.

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