Thanks to the efforts of scholar Carter G. Woodson nearly one century ago, Black History Month has paid tribute to the accomplishments of African Americans across generations.
Having earned his master’s degree from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from Harvard University, Woodson witnessed how African Americans were underrepresented in the discourse of American history. Inspired by attending a celebration of black history, Woodson and his colleagues formed an association to study African American history in 1915. A decade later, he began urging black civic organizations to promote the achievements and historical scholarship uncovered by researchers. In 1926, Woodson sent out a press release announcing that the first history week dedicated to African Americans would take place in February — a month that celebrates both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays.
This February, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) is proud to celebrate Black History Month by honoring Inductees whose accomplishments have contributed to society in remarkable ways. A display outside of the NIHF Museum, located at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), will feature two NIHF Inductees whose perseverance and commitment to progress propelled them along their innovative journeys. The display welcomes visitors to learn the stories of these inventors and gain an appreciation for both their discoveries and their triumphs.
NIHF Inductee Marshall Jones used the obstacles he faced as a child to learn persistence. Academic setbacks required Jones to repeat the fourth grade, a time that challenged his self-confidence. Today, however, he believes the experience helped prepare him for the future. When he attended college at the University of Michigan, he was the only black student in the engineering program. Jones went on to earn his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts and eventually became a mechanical engineer for GE Global Research. At GE, he pioneered the use of lasers for industrial materials processing.
Throughout his career, Jones has invented new methods for welding dissimilar metals, developed fiber-optic systems for industrial laser applications and advanced the method of making the lead wires used in light bulbs. Today, Jones continues to inspire innovation. He influences and promotes NIHF education programs such as Camp Invention®, inspiring young people to think creatively and always persevere.
NIHF Inductee Joseph Lee was a pioneer in the automation of bread and breadcrumb making during the late 1800s. The son of enslaved parents, Lee spent much of his childhood in bondage. Despite this adversity, Lee found success in the Boston hospitality industry where he became a skilled chef and baker. He opened two restaurants, operated a resort, owned and managed a hotel, and established the Lee Catering Co.
He forever changed breadmaking with machines that automated processes and reduced waste. Lee’s first invention, which he patented in 1894, was for a bread machine that automated the mixing and kneading of bread dough. His second patented invention was for a crumber that created crumbs from day-old loaves. By 1900, Lee’s crumber was used by many of America’s leading hotels and catering establishments, and two years later he patented an improvement to his bread kneading machine.
Interact with the Exhibit
Visitors will be able to engage with the display featuring Jones and Lee throughout the month of February 2020. An interactive card will allow visitors to reflect on the Inductees’ stories and consider what inspires them in their own lives.
Can’t make it to the museum in person? Visit us virtually through Google Arts & Culture or our social media platforms! Participate by answering the questions from our interactive cards directly on Twitter or Facebook using #NIHF and #BlackHistoryMonth.