Resources & Media
EEI Celebrates Black History Month
EEI Celebrates Black History Month
Each February, EEI recognizes Black History Month, which commemorates the achievements of Black Americans and highlights their central role in history. February 11 is National Inventors Day. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated the birthday of Thomas Edison—who patented the first carbon-filament light bulb—as the date to honor our country’s inventors whose brilliant work has improved lives and spurred innovation and growth. National Inventors Day falls during Black History Month, and EEI is proud to honor the contributions of Black scientists and engineers whose inventions have made an impact on our daily lives.
Lewis H. Latimer
Lewis Latimer is one of the first “pioneers” of the electric power industry. A talented engineer, draftsman, and prolific inventor, Latimer was born on Sept. 4, 1848, in Chelsea, Mass. Recognized for his drawing skills, Latimer was hired by the inventor Alexander Graham Bell to draft the drawing necessary for a patent application of Bell’s famous telephone in February 1876.
In 1881, Latimer began working on improving Thomas Edison’s light bulb while employed by the United States Electric Lighting Company in Bridgeport, Conn. Latimer devised a way of encasing the filament within a cardboard envelope to prevent it from breaking, prolonging the life of the bulb. The new long-life bulb was more economical and more energy-efficient than previous bulbs.
On January 24, 1918, Latimer was named one of the 28 charter members—and the only Black member—of the “Edison Pioneers,” a distinguished group of people who worked to keep the ideals of Thomas Edison alive. The “Edison Pioneers” are deemed responsible for creating the nation’s electric power industry. Latimer continued to display his creative talents over the next several years, receiving patents for a variety of inventions, including a safety elevator. Learn more about Latimer.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies are vital in today’s digital world, and Marian Croak is one of the engineers who helped to advance it. VoIP converts voice data into digital signals that can be easily transmitted over the internet rather than by using traditional phone lines. Today, the widespread use of VoIP is vital for remote work and personal communications.
Croak began her career at Bell Laboratories (later AT&T), with a position that involved testing how technology can be used to positively impact people’s lives. She focused on developing technology that would “transform the internet” and established the fundamentals for what would later be known as VoIP technologies. As Croak rose through the ranks of the company, she also furthered technology in areas such as voice and text messaging on cell phones. Today, she is a vice president of engineering at Google. She has patented more than 200 inventions and has earned several awards. Learn more about Croak.
Despite only having an elementary school education, Garrett Morgan blazed a trail for Black inventors with his various patents. Born in Kentucky, he was the child of two formerly enslaved people. When he was only 14 years old, Morgan moved to Ohio to look for a job. He eventually owned several businesses, including a repair shop, a garment shop, and a newspaper called the Cleveland Call.
Morgan transformed automobile safety with his three-position traffic signal, which he patented in 1923. Morgan, the first Black man in Cleveland to own a car, was inspired to create the signal after he witnessed a carriage accident at a dangerous intersection. He sold the rights to his invention to General Electric for $40,000. He patented several other inventions, including an improved sewing machine, a hair-straightening product, and a respiratory device (sometimes called a smoke hood) that later would provide the blueprint for World War I gas masks. Learn more about Morgan.
Alice H. Parker
In 1919, Alice Parker patented a central heating system that used natural gas. Her invention played a key role in the development of the heating systems we have in our homes today. Most homeowners a hundred years ago were stocking up on wood or coal to heat their homes, and a fireplace did not effectively heat homes during cold winters. Parker’s design was unique because it used natural gas, which saved time from chopping wood, and increased safety measures without a fire burning all night. Her design also inspired the creation of inventions such as thermostats, zone heating, and forced air furnaces.
Parker graduated with a certificate from Howard University in Washington, D.C. While her invention was impressive, receiving higher education as a Black woman in the early 1900s was an achievement in itself. Learn more about Parker.
James Edward Maceo West
James West always was fascinated with the concept of electricity and wanted to be a scientist, although his parents feared for his job prospects during the Jim Crow era. In 1960, while working at Bell Laboratories, West teamed up with fellow scientist Gerhard M. Sessler to develop an inexpensive, highly sensitive, compact microphone.
In 1962, they finished development on the product, which relied on their invention of electret transducers. By 1968, the electret microphone was in mass production. Their invention became the industry standard, and today, 90 percent of all contemporary microphones—including those found in telephones, tape recorders, camcorders, baby monitors, and hearing aids—use their technology. Learn more about West.
Known as “Black Edison,” Granville Woods registered nearly 60 patents in his lifetime including a telephone transmitter, a trolley wheel, and the multiplex telegraph. He held various engineering and industrial jobs before establishing a company to develop electrical apparatus. Most of his patents were for electrical devices, including his second invention, an improved telephone transmitter. The patented device, which combined the telephone and telegraph, was bought by Alexander Graham Bell.
Woods was sued by Thomas Edison after he registered a patent for his multiplex telegraph, which helped speed up communications. Woods defeated the lawsuit and turned down Edison’s later offer to make him a partner. Learn more about Woods.
Learn more about Black History Month from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.