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UBSS celebrates African-American Inventors

On Thursday, February 25 UBSS hosted a meeting that celebrated and discussed African-American inventors.

The presentation was led by Ayana Plummer, a member of the club’s e-board. She discussed three areas of invention: protection, cosmetics, transportation, and medical.

She started by talking about Marie V. B. Brown, who invented the home security system in 1966. Since crime was high in her neighborhood in Queens, she invented the system to help catch criminals.

“She herself was a nurse and her husband was an electrician mechanic,” Plummer explained. “So, together, they created the surveillance system using cameras and television monitors to install around the homes.”

The next person Plummer covered was Thomas Marshall, who invented the early version of the fire extinguisher in 1872. “You attach a pipe to a water reservoir. Kind of thinking almost like a fire hydrant. It could be used for putting out fires, but also for street cleaning as well.”

The next area was cosmetics. Plummer discussed George W. Carver, also known as The Peanut Man. While he never invented peanut butter, a common misconception, Carver did invent over 300 uses for peanuts, about twenty for sweet potatoes, and a handful for soybeans.

“For the cosmetics, he made lotion, shaking cream, shampoo, hair pomade, face oils, and things like that.” Plummer said. “All with peanuts!”

Madam C. J. Walker also contributed to the cosmetic industry. Suffering from a scalp disorder, Walker worked to find home remedies while discovering that men and women suffered from the same condition.

“At the time, there wasn’t a hair care line for black people, let alone Caucasians.” Plummer explained. “So, yes, she was the first African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire, and encourage other women to take her products and use them on their scalp to heal themselves.”

 For transportation, Plummer highlighted the contributions of Garret Morgan and Matthew Cherry. Morgan invented the traffic light in 1923, and patented it in both England and Canada.

“He may be well-known for the street light,” Plummer said, “but he has a lot of other patents. Probably thirty more which also included the gas mask, which was later altered for the use of the U.S. military in World War II.”

Matthew Cherry invented the tricycle in 1888. “We all have ridden a bike,” Plummer said. “Those training wheels on the side were probably inspired by him. It was created in mind with increased safety, and carrying capacity compared to the bicycle.”

For the medical field, Plummer discussed Fredrick M. Jones and Dr. Otis Boykin. Jones invented portable air cooling units in 1940 which was later used by the U.S. military to preserve food, blood, and medicine during World War II. He also invented portable x-rays along with sixty other patents.

Dr. Boykin is credited with the invention of the pacemaker. “Although this isn’t one of his most famous inventions,” Plummer said, “one of his inventions we use today for Zoom meetings and online communication is wire precision resistor, which helps the electrical current travel more efficiently, which is probably used in the pacemaker to send shocks to the heart to help it to beat.”

“Like Morgan, and Fredrick’s inventions, they’re also used by the U.S. government for radios, guided missiles, and IBM computers,” Plummer continued.

Plummer finished the presentation by highlighting how important African-Americans have been to pushing this country forward in all fields, despite not being credited by the masses.

“It just goes to show that, especially the life of C. J. Walker and George Washing Carver [who was] born literally on a plantation field, that they defied the odds at the time, they defeated the status quo, they became largely successful and rich,” Plummer said. “We still speak their names today, and the same goes for others like Thomas Marshall, Dr. Boykin, and Garret Morgan.”