Guest Author - Vance Rowe
In keeping with the theme of Black History month, I am writing another article about African-American inventors. This article will be about the African-American men and their contributions to society.
The first one is about a man named Elijah McCoy. McCoy was born in 1843 to a set of parents who had escaped from slavery via the Underground Railroad. Elijah McCoy was eventually sent to Scotland to attend school and he returned to the states as a “master mechanic and an engineer”. However, jobs were scarce for African-American men and women and at the time so the only job he could get was with the Michigan Central Railroad. Elijah McCoy was hired by the railroad to walk along the trains that just pulled into the station and oil their moving parts. McCoy soon figured out a way to have this done mechanically and invented the automatic oil cup.
This oil cup would lubricate the train’s axels and bearings while it was in motion and meant less time the train would be down and this cut down on time, costs and improved safety. Of course, later on other people made knock-offs of the oil cup and weren’t as good so when engineers were going to purchase the oil cup, they asked for the “real McCoy”.
George Crum was a chef from my neck of the woods at a resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. In 1853, while working in the kitchen, a man sent back a plate of French fries or potatoes to Crum stating that they were too thick and mushy, and were not salty enough. Now no chef likes having their meals sent back but this really irritated Crum so he sliced some potatoes very thin, fried them until crispy and tossed a handful of salt on them and sent them out, hoping that would teach the customer not to complain about food. Reportedly, the customer loved these and the potato chip was born. When George Crum eventually opened his own restaurant, a dish of these potato chips was placed on every table. Unfortunately, he never patented the idea nor was he responsible for the eventual bagging of the potato chip and selling them in grocery stores, but without George Crum’s accidental idea, we may never have had these salty snacks.
Did you know it was an African-American inventor named George Morgan who invented and patented the three light traffic signal in 1923? He was inspired to do so after witnessing a bad traffic accident at an intersection and his invention was the first traffic light to include an amber light so traffic would know to slow down before it turned to red. This three light traffic signal has since been adopted all over the world.
George Washington Carver made history with his planting of peanuts to save the soil and urged other farmers to do the same. Cotton depleted the soil but peanuts and other legumes added nutrients to the soil so he urged farmers to start a crop rotation between legumes and cotton. The farmers did this but had a hard time selling the peanuts and Carver is credited with over 300 inventions for peanuts including dyes, coffee, and soap among others, but, he is not the inventor of peanut butter. That has been a common misconception about this scientist. His innovations provided the South with a very important crop but peanut butter was not one of those innovations.