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Leaders in Innovation

2024 NIHF Inductee George Washington Murray: A Groundbreaking Innovator

The world’s most impactful U.S. patent holders can be found at the National Inventors Hall of Fame®. Our mission – to recognize inventors, promote creativity, and advance the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship – is inspired and informed by the stories of our Inductees.

The visionaries who make up our 2024 class of Inductees is responsible for a wide array of achievements in diverse fields, from medicine to transportation to communication to agriculture. Read on to learn about the 2024 Inductee who made a significant impact in agriculture and beyond: George Washington Murray.


Innovating Against the Odds

At the heart of all we do at the National Inventors Hall of Fame is the belief that everyone has the potential to create and innovate, and it is essential that all people have the opportunity to reach their full potential. With this in mind, we believe it is vital to tell the stories of innovators who faced barriers to such opportunities – stories like that of Inductee George Washington Murray. Born enslaved in Sumter County, South Carolina, in 1853, Murray became a leader in agricultural innovation, a U.S. representative and an advocate for greater recognition of his fellow Black inventors.

By the end of the Civil War in 1865, Murray had lost both of his parents. Though he hadn’t previously received a formal education, he began attending the University of South Carolina in 1874, until the university’s expulsion of Black students in 1877. He later began working as a teacher.

Murray became a landowner as well as a successful farmer, both of which were extremely rare among formerly enslaved people at the time. He began farming when he was just a teenager, and by 1880 he owned 49 acres of tilled farmland as well as 15 wooded acres. Murray produced cotton, wood, corn, eggs, butter and fruit.


Finding Inspiration

It was in the early 1880s that Murray found the inspiration to invent in everyday tasks. As he observed his wife using a sewing machine in their home, he noticed that she used different attachments to perform a variety of tasks, and he began to consider taking a similar approach to farming equipment. By equipping one of his farm machines with interchangeable attachments, he believed it would be possible for one machine to serve multiple functions at an affordable cost. With his ingenuity and determined spirit, Murray turned this idea into a reality.

In 1894, Murray earned eight patents for his agricultural advancements. His machinery was extraordinarily versatile, with furrow-opening, stalk-knocking, planting, fertilizing, reaping and distributing attachments.

Murray’s attachments were designed to efficiently support farmers’ planting and harvesting processes. They could harvest small grains with the stalks still attached, gather them into sheaves or bundles, and then distribute the sheaves in even intervals along the ground, where they could be collected easily.


Influencing the Future

In 1893, Murray was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. The only Black representative in the 53rd and 54th Congresses, he served until 1897.

While he was a member of Congress, Murray supported funding the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. As part of this event, a planned exhibit would celebrate the achievements of Black Americans. Murray, who saw patents as emblematic of equality and progress, delivered a floor speech in August 1894 in which he promoted recognition of Black inventors. He also submitted into the Congressional Record a document written by lawyer and patent examiner Henry E. Baker. Known as “Baker’s List,” this revolutionary document listed 92 U.S. patents that had thus far been granted to Black inventors, challenging the country’s expectations of who could create and innovate. Congress subsequently voted to fund the exhibition.

Murray returned to his farm and invested in land after leaving Congress in 1897. In 1905, he moved to Chicago, where he sold life insurance and real estate, wrote books and became a professional lecturer. While serving as treasurer at a Chicago department store, Murray earned a patent for a portable hoisting device designed for use in stores and warehouses. This was his ninth and final patent. Today, Murray’s legacy of ingenuity and persistence continues to inspire the nation’s next great innovators.


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To learn more about the latest National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees whose stories will inspire generations through our events, museum exhibits and invention education programs, visit our website.

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