Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Nelson Mandela

Do you ever find yourself using something and wonder, “who invented this?”, “how did someone come up with this idea?” or maybe even, “where would we be without it?”

It’s often the things you don’t think about that make the biggest difference in your everyday life.

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In honour of Black History Month, we’re shining a light on everyday inventions that you might not know were created by Black entrepreneurs and inventors.

Including all types of things like gifs, the ironing board, potato chips and more, check out our list of some of the amazing things to come from the minds of Black inventors.


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Today, we don’t even think twice about using our local mailboxes to send out a letter or package. Some of society’s most important documents are processed through mailboxes, such as tens of millions of voters choosing to vote by mail.

Back in 1891, a Black inventor named Philip B. Downing patented the US Mailbox. Before this invention, people had to make a trip to the Post Office every time they needed to mail their letters. Can you believe?

The Ironing Board

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At some point, we’ve all used an ironing board (or wished we had one) to get the wrinkles out of our favourite shirt just in time for an interview.

In the late 19th century, the original ironing board design was improved by Sarah Boone, an African-American dressmaker. In 1892, she expanded the original ironing board, which was originally patented in 1858. She was one of the first Black women in U.S. history to receive a patent.

The board featured a more narrow and curved design to make ironing items easier, particularly the sleeves and bodies of women’s clothing. Boone’s design morphed into the modern ironing board that we use today.

Three signal traffic lights

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In 1923, Garrett Morgan invented the three signal traffic light. The invention came to be in response to Morgan witnessing a severe car accident at an intersection in the city. He decided to expand on the existing two-light traffic light by adding the yellow light as a “yield” component to warn drivers of traffic.

Along with several significant inventions like the improved sewing machine and the gas mask, the improved traffic light was one of Garrett Morgan’s most influential inventions.

GIF Animation

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What would the internet be without GIFs and online video?!

We have Lisa Gelobter to thank for these inventions. She was closely involved with the creation of Shockwave, a technology that helped pave the way for internet animation.

Gelobter also played a major role in online video, serving on the senior management team at Hulu while also holding the role of Interim Head of Digital for BET Networks and running their technology, product and business operations.

The Blood Bank

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Dr. Charles Drew was a physician, surgeon, and medical researcher who worked with the Red Cross team on groundbreaking discoveries around blood transfusions. He was one of the most prominent doctors working in his field and one of the only African-Americans.

During World War II, he played a major role in developing the first large-scale blood banks and blood plasma programs. He also invented the refrigerated trucks known as bloodmobiles that, to this day, safely transport stored blood to the location where it’s needed most.

Did you know that in Canada, 52 per cent of people say they or a family member have needed blood or blood products at some point in their lives? Dr. Charles Drew’s impact continues to save millions of lives.

Potato Chips

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Okay, I think we can all agree that the person who invented potato chips is a genius!

Although the details around the invention of everyone’s favourite snack food is somewhat unclear, all signs point to a man named George Crum, a cook and restaurateur.

In the summer of 1853, while he was working as a chef at an elegant resort in Saratoga Springs, Crum modified the recipe for the famous French-fried potatoes on the menu after a customer complained they were cut too thickly.  He reacted by slicing the potatoes as thin as he possibly could, frying them in grease. To his surprise, the guest loved them. After that, many other guests began requesting them, making them a favourite at the resort – deeming them “Saratoga Chips.”

In 1860, Crum opened his own successful restaurant. One of its main attractions was the basket of potato chips placed on every table.

Although Crum never patented or attempted to widely distribute his potato chips, they became an international phenomenon with the help of many other aspiring snack food entrepreneurs around the world.

The Super Soaker

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Think of all the hours of fun you’ve had with this invention by former Air Force and NASA engineer, Lonnie G. Johnson!

Back in 1982, Lonnie Johnson came up with the idea of a pressurized water gun after shooting a powerful stream of water in his bathroom while doing experiments. After quite a few years, Johnson pitched the idea to the toy company Larami in 1989, and the first commercial version of the water gun appeared in stores the following year as the Power Drencher.

The toy was given the new Super Soaker name in 1991, and since then, it has generated more than $1 billion in sales and has gained the title as the #1 top-selling water toy of all time.

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Speaking of great Black entrepreneurs, you won’t want to miss out on the Black Excellence Conference, presented by IGNITE and the BASE! On Friday, Feb. 12, at 4 p.m., join us for a panel discussion on the importance of claiming space in your industry.

As an added bonus, attendees will get the chance to win one of six $50 Visa gift cards for completing the post-event satisfaction survey!

Also, check out the new Black Heritage Month 365 Calendar for upcoming ways that Humber and UofGH students can engage in anti-racism education. Almost every day throughout February, you can join great events hosted by the BASE like weekly Page Turner Book Clubs, Virtual Drop-in sessions, Tea Talk Thursdays, and more!

Get to know more about the first-ever recipient of the annual IGNITE Black Excellence Scholarship, Shay Hamilton.

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