As we celebrate Women’s History Month — which, lets be honest, should be every month — it’s important to recognize the contributions of Black women inventors who have made significant contributions to the world we live in today.
The Significance of Black Women Inventors
Despite the obstacles faced during times where big ideas in innovation and Black women weren’t exactly welcome, several of our home comforts have come from pioneering Black ladies who came before us.
From home security technology to space-saving designs, these five Black women inventors have shaped our homes in ways we may not even be aware of.
Sarah Goode – the Space-saving Cabinet Bed
Today, space-saving furniture is a common feature in many homes. And for that, we have Sarah Goode to thank for paving the way for this trend. Sarah Goode was an inventor and entrepreneur who made a significant contribution to the world of furniture and interior design by inventing the space-saving cabinet bed.
Born into slavery in Virginia in 1855, Goode moved to Chicago in the late 1800s. Here, she opened a furniture store. However, she noticed a common problem among her customers. Many of them lived in small apartments and did not have enough space for a traditional bed.
Goode designed a bed that could fold into a cabinet during the day. Naturally, it freed up space in the apartment for other activities. Her invention was a simple but effective solution to a common problem faced by many city dwellers. But the icing on her very boss-moves cake? This made her one of the first Black women to receive a patent for an invention.
Alice H. Parker – the Heating Furnace
We love a self-taught queen, and Alice H. Parker, born in 1895 in New Jersey, was a Black woman inventor that also turned up the heat — quite literally. Parker saw a need for a more efficient and effective method of heating homes and got to work inventing a new-and-improved heating furnace.
Parker’s furnace was a significant improvement over the traditional heating systems of the time. Originally, they relied on wood or coal to generate heat. Her furnace used natural gas to heat the air, which was then circulated through ducts to various parts of the house.
Her system was also much more efficient than traditional heating methods. It required less fuel and could heat a home more evenly. Today, central heating systems are a common feature in homes around the world.
Marie Van Brittan Brown – the Closed-circuit Television Security System
Marie Van Brittan Brown was an inventor who developed the first closed-circuit television (CCTV) security system in 1966. Born in Queens, New York in 1922, Brown was a nurse who worked odd hours and often felt vulnerable when returning home late at night. With the help of her electronics-technician husband, she designed a system of cameras and monitors for home security.
The invention consisted of a system of four peepholes and a camera mounted on a motorized swivel. You could control the camera from inside your home, allowing you to view images from different angles. The images were transmitted to a monitor where you could view them from the safety of your home as well. Essentially, you could see who was outside before deciding whether to open the door.
But Brown’s invention was particularly significant in another way. At the time, a woman inventing a security system was unheard of. She single-handedly challenged traditional gender roles.
Sarah Boone – the Modern Ironing Board
Tools that make tasks around the home more efficient have a special place in our hearts. And Sarah Boone’s modern ironing board made smoothing out clothing a breeze. Born in 1832 in North Carolina, Boone was a dressmaker who was frustrated with the limitations of the traditional wooden ironing boards of her time.
These boards were heavy and difficult to move, making it difficult to iron clothes effectively. So, Boone took matters into her own hands and designed an ironing board that was lightweight, portable, and easy to use. Her board consisted of a narrow, curved shape that allowed for easier ironing of sleeves and other tricky areas. The board was also collapsible, making it easy to store when not in use.
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson – the Touch-tone Telephone, Caller ID and Call Waiting
A fact we’re sure we can all agree on? The touch-tone telephone walked, so T9 and (eventually) texting could run, and Dr. Shirly Ann Jackson led the way. An American physicist and academic born in Washington, D.C., Jackson earned a Bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 1973, while working at Bell Labs, Dr. Jackson invented the touch-tone telephone. This was a significant advancement over the previous rotary dial telephones, which were slower and less efficient. The touch-tone telephone allowed users to quickly dial phone numbers using a keypad. This increased the speed and ease of communication.
In addition to the touch-tone telephone, Dr. Jackson also played a key role in the development of caller ID and call-waiting technologies. Her contributions to telecommunications have earned her many awards and honors, including the National Medal of Science in 2014.
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by Arielle Clay | January 19, 2023
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