Ten revolutionary things invented by Black folks

Black ingenuity has made life a lot easier for us

Who created GIFs? You’re about to find out! IMAGE: Sara Wong / The Peak

By: Madeleine Chan, Opinions Editor

When you think of famous inventors, names like Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, and even Steve Jobs might be some of the first that pop into your mind. You’ll notice that what all these people have in common is that they are white. A simple Google search for “famous inventors” features only the top white minds of the past couple centuries. However, this doesn’t actually reflect the reality of the innovative landscape. In fact, many of the objects that you probably use today were invented by non-white people, specifically by Black people. I’ve listed only 10 of these inventions, but the creativity of Black inventors knows no limit. 

Colour PC monitors and plug-ins

Imagine if all computer screens were in black and white and you couldn’t plug a mouse or keyboard into them. Because of Mark Dean, we don’t have to. Born in 1957, he graduated from the University of Tennessee with high honours and then got a job with computer company IBM. There, he invented computer device plug-ins and later developed the colour monitor. He was rightfully given many awards and honours, including being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

Toilet paper holder

You have Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner to thank for making sure you can wipe your ass quickly. She created the toilet paper holder to make sure the “loose end of a roll was always within reach.” This is one of five things that got publicly made in her lifetime, and one of countless inventions she whipped up. Others include the back washer and the sanitary belt — the precursor to the innovation of today’s menstrual pads. Her innovation and heart knew no bounds as she believed that “every person is born with a creative mind, everyone has that ability.”

Home security system

The movie Smart Home has nothing on Marie Van Brittan Brown, who invented and patented the first closed-circuit television security system (CCTV) in 1966. Heightened crime and undependable police presence in her home of Jamaica, Queens in New York City led her to develop a system of cameras, microphones, remote controls, and security alerts that the user could control from inside their home. It’s a bit ironic that her invention has led to such surveillance of people by governmental forces, but it has also undoubtedly protected people as well. 

Caller ID

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is the person who has protected you from answering scam calls and helped you ignore ruthless exes. Caller ID is just one of the many telecommunications breakthroughs she made, she also helped to develop the touch tone phone, portable fax, fiber optic cables, and solar cells. Among her many scholarly accolades, she was also awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in 2016. 


Without Lisa Gelobter, you wouldn’t be able to see GIFs of cute cats, or share your reactions to friends through animation. She helped to create the web animation software that would be instrumental in developing the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF). And in 2015, she worked with President Barack Obama to improve the US government’s digital services. 

Game cartridge

If you’ve ever satisfyingly clicked a little Nintendo, Atari, or otherwise video game cartridge into a console, you have Gerald “Jerry” Lawson to thank. He was the first to make video games separate from the system, which has led to how most video game consoles operate today. He carried on creating innovative technologies until his passing in 2011. 

Compact microphone

Without the invention of the compact microphone by James West, our professors would have to partake in the complete silences that plague our Zoom classes. Originally named the Electret microphone, it went into mass production in 1968 and the technology is used in virtually every device that has a microphone. In 1999, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

Potato chips

Your 3 a.m. munchies are owed to the ironically named George Crum, born George Speck. While it’s unclear if he or his sister Catherine Wicks actually invented the chip, Crum popularized the snack by serving the then-named Saratoga chips at a restaurant he worked at. Herman Lay (of Lay’s chips) later got his own chips into mass production and popularized them on a global scale, but Crum’s legacy is still in those crunchy, salty slices. 

Lightbulb filament

The reason we can see at night in our homes is in part due to the innovation of Lewis Howard Latimer. Born in 1848, he developed a filament that greatly improved Thomas Edison’s design of the lightbulb. He also collaborated with Alexander Graham Bell on improvements to the telephone, and later improved the safety of elevators. His successes as a Black man in the 19th century are a testament to his skill and innovative prowess. 

Pencil sharpener

Remember those little plastic rectangular things that you would hand-crank to sharpen your pencils? John Lee Love was the one who invented them. Originally named the “Love Sharpener,” it was made in 1894 as a portable and practical alternative to bulkier models. While we may not be using wood pencils as much anymore, if you want to sharpen one, Love made it a lot easier to.