Recognizing Black pioneers of the automotive industry – Bankrate.com
The automotive industry is nearly unrecognizable from its inception in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Auto manufacturers recently pioneered the self-driving vehicle, which comes with automatic steering, braking and acceleration; parallel parking assistance, which displays an aerial view of your vehicle and its parking spot; backup cameras, which help drivers avoid rear collisions; and built-in GPS systems.
So many of these advancements would not have been possible without Black Americans’ achievements in science and engineering. And yet, the contributions of Black engineers, designers and innovators have not always been given due credit. Historically, the patent process in the United States has favored white Americans, and at times, Black inventors were unable to secure patents. Despite a variety of barriers to overcome, Black innovators pushed to create some of the most important innovations of the automotive industry, many of which have contributed to the industry’s most recent advances. Bankrate examines just a few of the notable Black inventors whose work helped set the stage for the technology we all enjoy today.
George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver was born into slavery on a Missouri farm in 1865. Despite his difficult beginnings, Carver went on to be the first black student and faculty member at Iowa State Agricultural College. Later, Carver accepted a post at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, one of the first African American colleges in the United States. During World War I, Carver invented hundreds of industrial products from agricultural raw materials like peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes. These products included inks, dyes, wood stains, linoleum, flour, milk and medicinal oils.
Carver was a close friend of Henry Ford of the Ford Motor Company, and, in 1942, Carver visited Ford in Dearborn, Michigan to collaborate on several agricultural and industrial projects. World War II military needs created shortages of raw materials, including rubber, for use in the private economy. Carver, using his extensive knowledge of botany, created a synthetic rubber made from sweet potatoes. The innovation of synthetic rubber was an important one for the automotive industry. Today, more than two-thirds of rubber used for manufacturing is created synthetically, rather than harvested organically.
A Michigan State University study found that between 1976 and 2008, Black inventors were granted only six patents per 1 million people, compared to 235 patents per 1 million of all inventors in the United States. And in the early 1900s and before, Blacks were often barred from applying for patents at all.
As the son of two previously enslaved persons, Black inventor Garrett Morgan had to contend with this historically unequal patent system. But these systemic obstacles didn’t stop Morgan from filing and winning a patent for the first three-bulb stoplight.
Morgan was the owner of a successful garment shop and Black newspaper in Cleveland, and earned enough money to own a vehicle at a time when many people were still using bicycles, horses and carriages.
He noticed that the streets were crowded with various forms of transportation, and the traffic signals were primitive, simply displaying the words “Stop” or “Go” with no transition between the two. Since these signals didn’t notify drivers to slow down before the “Stop” signal, accidents were common. This mayhem inspired Morgan to invent the interim “All Hold” cue, the predecessor of today’s yellow light.
Morgan won a patent for his invention, a T-shaped pole with three settings: “Stop,” “All Hold” and “Go.” General Electric then bought the rights to his invention for $40,000. Today, the …….