Meet five Black inventors and pioneers whose contributions helped shape the modern electric era.
Black inventors have touched every part of our lives. As Duke Energy recognizes Black History Month this February, we are highlighting Black innovators whose contributions have shaped the modern electricity industry.
Lewis Howard Latimer, (1848–1928)
Lewis Howard Latimer is known for inventing and patenting the use of a carbon filament in a lightbulb. Previously, materials like bamboo were used that died in just a few short days. The invention of the carbon filament increased the bulb life span and practicality of the bulbs while also making them more affordable. Over the course of his career, he worked closely with Alexander Graham Bell, Hiram S. Maxim and Thomas Alva Edison while simultaneously designing several of his own inventions, including an improved railroad car, an air conditioning unit, and of course the carbon filament used in lightbulbs.
Elijah McCoy, (1844-1929)
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “the real McCoy” when referring to quality products, you may be surprised to hear there is an actual man behind the phrase. Elijah McCoy was instrumental in the field of steam engines, but some of his most timeless inventions can be found right around your home. His first major invention was a lubrication device that allowed trains to run for long periods of time without having to stop for maintenance. While easy to knock off (and many did), none held up to the standard or quality of McCoy’s invention. As mentioned, McCoy is also known for his contributions to the household. He devised the first folding ironing board (which was improved years later by Sarah Boone) and created the lawn sprinkler. Over the course of his lifetime, McCoy received 57 patents and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2001.
Granville T. Woods, (1856-1910)
A lifelong inventor, Granville Woods made huge contributions to the field of electricity. One of his most famous inventions, a device that transmitted messages through static electricity between moving trains and railroad stations, was instrumental in enhancing safety and preventing many collisions and deaths. This device used static electricity from the existing telegraph lines to make voice and telegraph messages possible between the moving trains and the rail stations. His later inventions focused on how to use electricity more efficiently. Granville held over 150 patents, 35 of which were in the field of electricity and electromagnets.
George T. Sampson
Little is known about George T. Sampson, but his contributions made an impact across households and businesses. He tasked himself with solving the problems with a common household chore – drying your clothes. His invention led to a safer and more efficient way to dry clothes while eliminating soot and smoke smells on newly washed clothes. Sampson’s redesign of the drying styler and apparatus earned himself the very first U.S. patent for – you guessed it – the clothes dryer. Sampson’s design was used until the growth of the electric dryer around 1915.
Alice H. Parker, (1895-unknown)
Alice H. Parker was an inventor in the early 20th century. Inspired by the cold New Jersey winter, Parker created a central heating system that used natural gas (rather than coal or wood), which made heating your home efficient, convenient and safer. As a Black woman, her patent, issued in 1919, was an unusual and outstanding achievement during her time. Her invention played a key role in the development of the heating systems we have in our homes today.