Celebrating African American Women Inventors

When people think of great inventors, names like Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Benjamin Franklin are usually the first names that come to mind. All these men are in fact remarkable inventors, but what about the women? Our history has been filled with great women inventors that don’t always get the recognition that is deserved. In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to acknowledge just a few of the great African American women inventors.

Marjorie Joyner (1896 – 1994)

Joyner was an African American businesswoman that lived in Monterey, Virginia. In 1912 she moved to the busy city of Chicago to study cosmetology at Molar Beauty School in Chicago. In 1916 she became the first African American to graduate from the school. Little did Joyner know that this would be the start to an invention that would help numerous women. Joyner began looking for a new way for African American women to be able to straighten their hair. One day she was inspired by a pot roast cooking with heat pins and invented a machine that would allow women of all colors to be able to either curl or straighten their hair. The machine is assembled with rods that you can wrap in your hair to straighten and/or curl. She received patent U.S. patent #1,693,515 on November 27,1928 for her design.

Mary Beatrice Kenner (1912-2006)

Kenner began coming up with inventions when she was just as little girl alongside her sister Mildred Davidson Austin Smith. She credited her father Sidney Nathaniel Davidson for her creative mind, saying that he was always encouraging her for her new ideas. Kenner was the inventor of an improved bathroom tissue holder that allowed the loose end of a bathroom tissue roll to be accessible at all times. She received patent #4,354,643, on October 19, 1982 for this device. Although Kenner had an astounding four other patents for various inventions, this was the machine that she would become most known for.

Sarah E. Goode (1850-1905)

Goode was the very first African American woman to receive a patent. Originally born into a life of slavery, she moved to Chicago when she was freed after the American Civil War. After she made the move to Chicago, Goode married Archibald Goode who worked as a carpenter. Goode opened a furniture store, which would later spark her widely known invention. After hearing numerous complaints from customers about not having enough space in their homes for the necessary furniture, she came up with a folding cabinet bed. When the bed was put in the folded position it looked like a desk that even had several compartments for storage. Today we now have what we call the Murphy bed and the hide-away bed/couch as a product of Goode’s invention. Goode received patent #322,177 for her creation on July 14, 1885.

Sarah Breedlove “Madam C. J. Walker” (1867 –1919)

Sarah Breedlove is perhaps one of the most well known out of the women inventors. One of her biggest accomplishments was becoming the first woman self-made millionaire by founding her own company called ‘Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company.’ The way Breedlove made her millions was by creating and marketing her very own line of beauty and hair products for African American women. There were five original products that she produced: Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, Temple Salve, Tetter Salve, Vegetable Shampoo and Glossine. Along with her creations that changed the world of beauty for numerous African American women, Breedlove received an abundance of awards. Some of the awards she received were induction into National Business Hall of Fame, National Women’s Hall of Fame, and American Health and Beauty Aids Institute Hall of Fame. Breedlove was also recognized in 1998 with a U.S. postage stamp as part of the Black Heritage Series.


These are just a few of the great African American women inventors of our time and the list will continue to grow. There are many websites catering to the recognition of these remarkable women.

For a complete list of African American Women inventors you can visit https://webfiles.uci.edu/mcbrown/display/women_inventors.html

 By Jade Gonzalez

photo Courtesy of Past Entrepreneurs


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