Complete A-Z list

Complete list of sources

Recent Additions / Updates

About NKAA

NKAA Brochure

African American Library Directors in the USA

Links of Interest




staff only

University of Kentucky Libraries

Notable Kentucky African Americans Database

<Inventors>

Return to search page.

Adams, Charles "Cane"
Adams was a musician who invented the 'walking cane flute,' a flute combined with a walking cane. He recorded with the Kentucky Jug Band/Phillip's Louisville Jug Band in Chicago in 1930. Adams' playing may also be heard on the recording Clifford Hayes & the Louisville Jug Bands, Volume 4. For more see Charles 'Cane' Adams in The Unsung Musicians of Early Jazz and Blues [.pdf], by R. Schneider.
Subjects: Inventors, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / Chicago, Illinois

Baker, David
Birth Year : 1881
Born in Louisville, KY, Baker invented scales that were used in elevators to prevent overloading. He was also co-inventor of the streetcar transom opener in 1913, the high water indicator for bridges in 1915, and a number of other inventions. For more see Who's Who of the Colored Race, 1915; and The Pride of African American History: inventors, scientists, physicians, engineers..., by D. Wilson and J. Wilson.
Subjects: Inventors
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Benton, J. W.
J. W. Benton was a Kentucky native who invented a derrick used for hoisting. Benton walked to Washington, D.C., to get the patent, carrying his invention in his arms. The patent #658,939 was received October 2, 1900 [source: Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1900, GPO, p.598]. For more see Kentucky's Black Heritage by Kentucky Commission on Human Rights; Blacks in Science and Medicine by V. O. Sammons; and H. E. Baker, "The Negro in the Field of Invention," The Journal of Negro History, vol. 2, no. 1 (January 1917), p. 35.
Subjects: Inventors
Geographic Region: Kentucky

Boyd, Henry
Birth Year : 1802
Death Year : 1866
Henry Boyd, who was born a slave in Kentucky, was an inventor, carpenter, and a master mechanic. He invented the corded bed - The Boyd Bedstead. His profits from his carpentry work also allowed him to buy his own and his family's freedom. In 1843 he was among the most successful furniture makers in Cincinnati, Ohio. For more see The Mis-education of the Negro, by C. G. Woodson; Created Equal, by J. M. Brodie; C. G. Woodson, "The Negroes of Cincinnati prior to the Civil War," The Journal of Negro History, vol. 1, issue 1 (Jan. 1916), p. 21; and History of the Negro Race in America, 1619-1880 by G. W. Williams.
Subjects: Businesses, Inventors, Migration North, Carpenters, Mechanics and Mechanical Engineering
Geographic Region: Kentucky / Cincinnati, Ohio

Bradberry, Henrietta Mahim
Birth Year : 1903
Death Year : 1979
Henrietta Mahim Bradberry was born in Franklin, KY, and lived in Chicago, IL. She was a housewife and also an inventor who held two patents. The first, received in 1943, was for a bed rack attachment that allowed for the airing-out of clothes. The second patent, received in 1945, was for a pneumatically operated device that allowed for the firing of torpedoes from beneath the water surface. Henrietta M. Bradberry was the wife of William Bradberry [source: 1930 U.S. Federal Census], the couple lived on Champlain Avenue. For more see p. 136 in The Inventive Spirit of African Americans, by P. Carter Sluby.
Subjects: Inventors, Migration North
Geographic Region: Franklin, Simpson County, Kentucky / Chicago, Illinois

Davidson, Shelby J.
Birth Year : 1868
Death Year : 1931
Born in Lexington, Davidson became a lawyer. He invented a paper rewinding device for a tabulating machine and an adding machine attachment for automatically adding in set amounts. Shelby Davidson's Papers are at Howard University. For more see World of Invention. History's most significant inventions and the people behind them, 2nd ed., by K. A. McGrath and B. Travers.
Subjects: Inventors
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Jones, Frederick M.
Birth Year : 1892
Death Year : 1961
Frederick M. Jones was born in Cincinnati and was later moved to Covington, KY. Some sources state that he was actually born in Covington, KY, in 1893. He was the son of John Jones, who was white, and an African American mother. Frederick Jones was raised by his father until age seven, when he was placed with the local Catholic Church; his mother had left the family when Jones was a baby. At the age of 11, Jones ran away from his caretakers at the Catholic church and found a job in a garage in Cincinnati, OH. He became a full time employee at age 14. Jones was attracted to mechanics and is credited with building the first practical truck refrigeration system in 1949. He also built cars from spare parts and raced them. He was a soldier in World War I; while in the service he studied electricity. In 1939 he patented a ticket dispensing machine for movie houses, his first patent (#2,163,754). Frederick M. Jones was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1991 by President George H. W. Bush; Jones was the 1st African Ameican to receive the award. For more see Distinguished African American Scientists of the 20th Century by J. H. Kessler; and "Frederick McKinley Jones" in Encyclopedia of World Biography, vol. 20, 2nd. ed., 2004.

See photo image and additional information about Frederick M. Jones at The Faces of Science website.
Subjects: Inventors, Military & Veterans, Automobile Races, Race-car Drivers, Migration South
Geographic Region: Cincinnati, Ohio / Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky

Leavell, Louis A.
Birth Year : 1874
Louis A. Leavell was a teacher, a lawyer, and an inventor. He was a teacher in Colored District "A" in Lancaster, KY, in 1898. He was removed from the job because 25% of the number of colored children in the district did not attend school for more than 20 consecutive days. In 1901, Leavell was a lawyer in Lexington, KY, and was also the editor of the Twentieth Century Literary Digest, published in Harrodsburg, KY. The Lexington Leader newspaper referred to the publication as one of the best colored literary magazines. In 1902, Leavell was back at the Lancaster Colored School, he was the school principal and the student attendance was at a high. Leavell was also admitted to the bar in Lancaster, and is thought to be the first African American in that organization.  Also in 1902, an article was published in The American Telephone Journal about a telephone answering and recording machine that L. A. Leavell had invented, but did not have the funding to manufacture the machine. The previous year he had filed for a patent on his buggy brake that worked on the hubs of the front wheels with best results on rubber tires. By 1905, Leavell had left Kentucky and moved to New York and was admitted to the bar. His office was located at 104 W. 30th Street in New York City. He was a member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and ran unsuccessfully for the New York Legislature, and for U.S. Congress in 1922 and 1924.  He was also unsuccessfully in his bid for New York City magistrate in 1925. For more information see "Change in Colored school," Central Record, 01/07/1898, p.1; "A Colored magazine," Leader, 04/07/1901, p.3; "Colored Notes," Leader, 03/26/1905, p.2; "Lawyer L. A. Leavell...," Central Record, 10/16/1902, p.1; "An Automatic recorder," The American Telephone Journal, vol. 6, no.4, 07/26/1902, p.53; and "A Good invention," Central Record, 08/22/1901, p.3. See Louis A. "Lavelle" in Emancipation: the making of the black lawyer, 1844-1944 by J. C. Smith, Jr.
Subjects: Education and Educators, Inventors, Journalists, Newspapers, Magazines, Book Publishers, Music Publishers, Lawyers, Migration North, Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Telephone Company Employees, Telephone Inventions, Telephones and Race
Geographic Region: Lancaster, Garrard County, Kentucky / Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky / Harrodsburg, Mercer County, Kentucky / New York City, New York

Lyons, Joseph B., Jr.
Birth Year : 1929
Death Year : 2001
Joseph B. Lyons, Jr. was born in Lexington, KY. He was a graduate of Old Dunbar High School and attended Kentucky State University. He later completed his electrical engineering degree at the University of Kentucky. Lyons served with the U.S. Air Force and had a 32 year career as a civilian employee in the Department of the Navy. He was an expert in radar systems and was the first African American to be named manager of the microwave technology division of the Sensors and Avionics Technology Directorate. Lyons also held six patents. In 2007, Joseph B. Lyons, Jr. was posthumously inducted into the University of Kentucky College of Engineering Hall of Distinction. He was the brother of Donald W. Lyons, Sr. For more see D. Adkins, "UK Engineering Hall of Distinction honors new inductees," UK News, 04/30/2007, p. 7.


Subjects: Engineers, Inventors, Military & Veterans
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

McCoy, Elijah J.
Birth Year : 1843
Death Year : 1929
Though it has been written otherwise, Elijah McCoy was not from Kentucky. He was born in Ontario, Canada. McCoy was the son of Mildred and George McCoy, escaped slaves from Louisville, KY. Elijah was a mechanical engineer known as the "Father of Lubrication." In 1872 he first patented an invention for self-oiling machines; automatic lubrication became known as "the real McCoy." He also invented an ironing table and lawn sprinkler. For more see World of Invention. History's most significant inventions and the people behind them, 2nd ed.

See photo and additional information about Elijah J. McCoy at the African American Registry website.
Subjects: Inventors, Mechanics and Mechanical Engineering
Geographic Region: Ontario, Canada / Louisville, Kentucky

Moore, Mary A.
From Carlisle, KY, Moore invented an external pain relief composition and the method for preparing it. The patent, # 4,177,266, was granted in 1979. For more see United States Patent and Trademark Database.
Subjects: Inventors
Geographic Region: Carlisle, Nicholas County, Kentucky

Morgan, Garrett A., Sr.
Birth Year : 1877
Death Year : 1963
Garrett A. Morgan, who was born in Paris, KY, patented the breathing device - a gas mask - and the traffic signal. He owned sewing equipment and repair shop, and a personal care products company. Morgan invented zig-zag stitching for manual sewing machines. Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. was the son of Sydney and Elizabeth Reed Morgan; he was the seventh of their eleven children. The children attended Branch School, located in the African American community of Claysville, later renamed Garrett Morgan's Place. Morgan quit school when he was in the fifth grade, and when he was a teen took a job in Cincinnati, OH. He would later move on to Cleveland, where he founded the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, which was later merged into the Cleveland Branch of the NAACP. Morgan also founded the Cleveland Call newspaper. For more see The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians, by A. A. Dunnigan; Created Equal, by J. M. Brodie; and Garrett A. Morgan in the Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Biography (2000).

See photo image and additional information on Garrett A. Morgan in Public Roads, Jan/Feb 1998, vol.62, no.4, a Federal Highway Administration website.
Subjects: Activists, Civil Rights, Businesses, Inventors, Journalists, Newspapers, Magazines, Book Publishers, Music Publishers, Migration North, NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Fraternal Organizations
Geographic Region: Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky / Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio

Parker, John P.
Birth Year : 1827
Death Year : 1900
Parker was born a slave in Virginia, son of a white father and a slave mother. He was sold south at 8 years of age but was able to purchase his freedom in 1845. Parker settled near Ripley, OH, where he became an Underground Railroad conductor. He is credited with assisting more than 1,000 escaped slaves across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Ohio. Parker was also a businessman and an inventor: he was one of the few African Americans to receive patents before the year 1900. For more see His Promised Land: the Autobiography of John Parker, ed. by S. S. Sprague; and Blacks in Science and Medicine, by V. O. Sammons.
Subjects: Freedom, Inventors, Mechanics and Mechanical Engineering, Underground Railroad: Conductors, Escapes, Organizations, Research
Geographic Region: Virginia / Ripley, Ohio / Kentucky

Perpetual Motion Machine (Franklin, KY)
Start Year : 1874
In 1874, the New York Times repeated a story from the Franklin Patriot newspaper about an African American man who had invented what he referred to as a "perpetual motion" wagon. The machine was to be shown at the fair in September, but a few days before the fair, the inventor was taking his machine to be registered and was thrown from the apparatus and killed. The machine was not damaged in the accident, and it was still scheduled to be shown at the fair. Perpetual motion had been a scientific fascination for centuries, and the African American in Franklin, KY, was not the first to be killed by his invention; James Bagby, a Virginia pioneer from Scotland, had also died while working with his perpetual motion machine. For more see "A Kentucky Story," New York Times, 09/14/1874, p. 5. For more about the Bagby Family, see the Emmett Wooten Bagby entry in History of Kentucky, by Kerr, Connelley, and Coulter [available full-text at Google Book Search]. See also Perpetual Motion, by W. J. G. Ord-Hume and H. A. Ord.
Subjects: Inventors
Geographic Region: Franklin, Simpson County, Kentucky

Reider, Carrie Nelson
Birth Year : 1869
Death Year : 1937
Carrie Reider was a hair dresser in Cincinnati, OH, who patented a hair tonic in 1917. She was in the hair care business for more than two decades, having started by selling hair care products using the sales agents system developed by Madam C. J. Walker. Carrie Reider later developed her own hair and scalp product for African American women: "Reider's Wonderful Hair Restorer." The product was sold by sales agents in Cincinnati and other cities. Carrie Reider died March 4, 1937 [source: Ohio Death Certificate], and later that year, her husband died in Kentucky. Carrie Reider was born in Danville, KY, the daughter of Horace Sr. and Mary Jane Nelson. The family of eight is listed in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census. Carrie Reider was the wife of John H. Reider (1869-1937), he was also from Kentucky. For more see the entry for Madam J. H. Reider in Cincinnati's Colored Citizens, by W. P. Dabney; Carrie N. Reider under "Patents & trademarks," The Pharmaceutical Era, December 1917, vol. 50, p. 402; and Ser. No. 104,363 (Class 6. Chemicals, medicines, and pharmaceutical preparations) in the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, vol. 242, p. 980.
Subjects: Businesses, Cosmetologists, Beauty Shops, Hairdressers, Beauty Supplies, Inventors, Migration North
Geographic Region: Danville, Boyle County, Kentucky / Cincinnati, Ohio

Robinson, H.
Robinson, from Paris, KY, invented the Robinson Mechanical Book, a crank operated dictionary that spelled and defined words. For more see p. 17 of The Negro Year Book (1925).
Subjects: Inventors
Geographic Region: Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky

Unidentified
An unidentified slave in Kentucky is said to have invented the hemp-brake machine. For more see African American Inventors, by O. R. Sullivan.
Subjects: Inventors
Geographic Region: Kentucky

Weaver, Rufus Jack
Birth Year : 1927
Death Year : 2008
Weaver was one of the very few African American men from Kentucky to serve on a Navy submarine during WWII. He joined the Navy in 1945 and first served on "R-1." He was chief steward when he retired from the Navy in 1965. Rufus married Margurite in 1965 and the Weaver Family lived in New London, CT. In 1968, Rufus Weaver invented a stair-climbing wheelchair, U.S. patent #3,411,598. Rufus Jack Weaver was born in Louisville, KY, the son of Jennie Washington Weaver and George Weaver. Jennie was born in Alabama and her parents were from Georgia. She died February 9, 1929, when Rufus was two years old; the family was living at the rear of 1414 S. 10th Street in Louisville, KY, according to Jennie Weaver's death certificate. Rufus Weaver was raised by his father for a few years, then lived in a detention home before living with his grandparents for a couple of years until his father got out of jail. At the age of 14, Rufus Weaver struck out on his own. This entry was suggested by UK Librarian Shawn Livingston. For a more detailed account of Rufus J. Weaver's life and military career, see his entry in Black Submariners by G. A. Knoblock; and see Rufus J. Weaver in the August 2002 and the December 2008 issues of Hooter Hilites [available full text online].
Subjects: Bakers, Cooks and Chefs, Inventors, Migration North, Military & Veterans
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / New London, Connecticut

White, Churchill
Birth Year : 1880
Death Year : 1949
White was living in Talmage, KY, when he invented the hemp brake machine for which he received patent #1358907 on November 16, 1920. He was born in Mercer County, the son of Churchill and Sallie Herman White. For more see Hemp Brake, by C. White [full-text at Google Book Search].
Subjects: Inventors
Geographic Region: Talmage, Mercer County, Kentucky

 

Return to the search page.