8 Brilliant African American Inventors You Need to Know About

February is Black History Month, a time for us all to reflect on and highlight the incredible, but often overlooked, contributions that brilliant African American scientists, activists, freedom fighters, teachers, doctors, etc. have made towards the success of this great nation and their own communities.

Today, we’re remembering these 8 African American inventors who shaped the world we live in today.

#1. Jan Ernst Matzeliger

Photo Credit: Public Domain

The common person struggled to afford shoes in the 19th century, but that fact changed when Dutch Guiana immigrant Jan Ernst Matzeliger invented an automated machine that attached a shoe’s upper part to its sole. The device could make 700 pairs of shoes a day, while a worker was only able to sew about 50.

The lowered production costs led to lower shoe prices, and the average American foot thanked him.

#2. Mark E. Dean

Photo Credit: University of Tennessee

Dean was a computer scientists and engineer who worked for IBM leading the team that designed the ISA bus – a hardware interface that allowed multiple devices like printers, modems, and keyboards to all be plugged into a computer.

He also helped develop the first color computer monitor, and in 1999 helped create the world’s first gigahertz chip. He holds 3 of IBM’s original 9 patents and 20 overall.

He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1997 and is currently a professor at the University of Tennessee.

#3. George Carruthers

Photo Credit: Public Domain

An astrophysicist who spent his career working with the Space Science Division of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., George Carruthers is most famous for creating the ultraviolet camera/spectograph. NASA used the technology to launch Apollo 16 in 1972, and it helped prove that molecular hydrogen existed in space. It was used again in 1974 to help scientists observe Halley’s Comet on the U.S.’s first space station.

He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2003.

#4. Dr. Patricia Bath

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Dr. Bath revolutionized the field of ophthalmology by inventing a device that refined laser cataract surgery. She patented the Laserphaco Probe in 1988 and is the first female African American doctor to receive a medical patent.

Her research on health disparities between African American patients and other patients created a new discipline called community ophthalmology. She and other volunteers continue to offer primary care and treatment to under-served populations.

#5. Marie Van Brittan Brown

Photo Credit: Pixabay

A nurse and inventor, Marie Van Brittan Brown invented a precursor to the modern home TV security system. Her invention was born of a desire to feel safe in her NYC neighborhood, where she and her husband developed a way for a motorized camera to project images onto a TV monitor.

They filed for their patent in 1966 and it was approved in 1969.

#6. Thomas L. Jennings

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Jennings was the first African American person to receive a U.S. patent – he invented an early method of dry cleaning in 1821. He fought for his right as a free man to apply for and receive the patent despite his skin color and paved the way for future inventors of color to gain rights for their own inventions.

He used the money he earned to free the rest of his family and to donate to abolitionist causes.

#7. Alexander Miles

Photo Credit: Pixabay

We don’t know much about the life of Alexander Miles, who lived from 1830-1918, other than the fact that he was living in Duluth, MN, when he designed the first automatic doors for elevators. The safety feature saved travelers from accidentally falling into the shaft as they manually opened and closed the doors, and today’s elevators use similar technology.

#8. Charles Richard Drew

Dr. Drew with his wife and children
Photo Credit: NIH

Charles Richard Drew was a surgeon who created America’s first major blood banks. He studied transfusion medicine and refined key methods of collecting, processing, and storing plasma.

He’s also responsible for introducing “bloodmobiles,” and was the first African American doctor chosen as an examiner for the American Board of Surgery.

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Interactive Maps Show How Climate Change Could Affect Your City

While there are still a decent amount of folks in government and civilian life who believe climate change isn’t real (or that it’s “not that bad”), the facts are undeniable: our planet is changing at an alarming pace.

Two interactive maps, one from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and one from the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, show how climate change might affect every part of the U.S. in 80 years and 60 years, respectively.

Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

You can explore the maps for yourself HERE and HERE, but let’s break down some of the findings from the maps.

This overview image is particularly telling. It shows what the climate of different cities might look like in 2080 based on current emissions trend-lines. As you can see, in only 60 years (within your lifetime?) Minneapolis will likely feel more like Oklahoma, assuming no successful action is taken to curb greenhouse gases.

According to the research, here’s what what it might feel like Los Angeles in 60 years.

Here is a snapshot of the Southeastern United States, focusing on Charlotte, North Carolina.

How will the Big Apple fare in 2080? Take a look.

NYC’s temperature will feel more like that of Jonesboro, Arkansas, which is more than 9 degrees warmer and 20% drier during the summer than the people of New York currently experience. And if you’ve ever been through a summer in New York, you know that if it got 9 degrees hotter…well, it’s pretty horrific to imagine.

Chicago has been in the news lately for its extreme cold weather, but in 60 years the weather in the Windy City might feel more like northeast Kansas.

As if Dallas wasn’t hot and sticky enough in the summertime, in 2080 the climate might feel more like that of New Orleans.

A final example from the 2080 map, from Miami, Florida:

The map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is a little more difficult to figure out, allows you to explore how climate change might affect cities and towns in the U.S. from 2010 to 2100 and also offers historical climate data from 1950 to 2010.  Here is an example.

The average daily maximum temperature in for Cook County, Illinois (which includes Chicago).

Photo Credit: NOAA

As you can see, it’s already warmed up, and it’ll just keep on getting hotter and hotter.

Look, the more we know about climate change, the better – and that means politicians, scientists, and normal citizens like you and me. It’s no longer an excuse to say “I’m not a scientist,” cause the scientists have made maps that do all the work for you. We’re not gonna solve this problem on a small individual scale. It’s time to pull together folks!

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Undiscovered King Arthur and Merlin Stories Found Hidden in Medieval Texts

The tales of King Arthur, his Knights of the Round Table, and his wizard Merlin have regaled children around the world for hundreds of years. If you happen to be a Camelot-ophile yourself, you may be thrilled to hear that we may be getting more stories soon, thanks to academic Michael Richardson.

Richardson was scouring the University of Bristol’s Special Collections Library for new reading materials for the university’s master’s program in Medieval Studies, when he found something totally unexpected.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Inside some of the 16th century books he was thumbing through were seven  hand-written parchment fragments that contained, upon closer examination, new renderings of the King Arthur, Merlin, and the Holy Grail legends.

Richardson contacted Leah Tether, the President of the International Arthurian Society, and together they found the fragments told familiar – though at times significantly different – stories. Tether expounded on their findings in a statement.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

“These fragments of the Story of Merlin are a wonderfully exciting find, which may have implications for the study not just of this text but also of other related and later texts that have shaped our modern understanding of the Arthurian legend.”

The new fragments depict longer, more detailed accounts of the stories of Arthur, Merlin, and Gawain preparing for battle against Lancelot’s father, King Claudas, and include many unique details.

The fragments were found in books that are believed to have been printed in Strasbourg between 1494 and 1502, and then sent to England unbound. Researchers believe the Arthurian parchments were probably used as extra material during the binding process in order to save money.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Based on the content of the parchments, Tether and others theorize they come from an old French text called the Vulgate Cycle (aka the Lacelot-Grail Cycle), which were used as the primary source for the work of Sir Thomas Mallory. He penned the most famous account of King Arthur – the one that inspired most modern retellings of the tales – Le Morte D’Arthur.

“Time and research will reveal what further secrets about the legends of Arthur, Merlin and the Holy Grail these fragments might hold,” says Tether.

King Arthur fans around the world, rejoice!

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Netflix’s “Tidying up with Marie Kondo” Inspires Massive Wave of Thrift Store Donations

Tidying up with Marie Kondo hit Netflix on January 1st, and exploded in popularity almost instantly. You’ve almost certainly seen some people on your friends’ list talking about it and maybe also going a little nuts purging their stuff. The signature “KonMari” method helps you keep your spaces clutter free and encourages people to get rid of anything that doesn’t “spark joy” – i.e. it’s better to have 5 shirts you love and look forward to wearing than 15 shirts you’re “meh” about. The show has not only inspired thousands of people to take stock of their possessions, it’s also had an unintended (but awesome) side effect.

Photo Credit: Netflix

People aren’t tossing their joyless items – they’re donating them.

A Chicago bookstore reported getting as many donations in 2 days as they typically receive in 2 months, and Goodwills and libraries around the country are reporting the same or similar upticks in generosity.

That said, Goodwill’s public relations and multimedia manager Malini Wilkes told CNN that it’s tough to attribute the increase in donations to Marie Kondo and her methods alone: donations are typically up this time of year.

“People have New Year’s resolutions, people have time to get their boxes together, that kind of thing. Unfortunately, at the current time, it’s too soon to determine the impact from the Marie Kondo show.”

Photo Credit: Netflix

Regardless, people who shop at thrift stores are ready and waiting to scoop up your castoffs. One person’s joyless blouse is another person’s ruffled chiffon pleasure, right?

Or something like that.

Photo Credit: Netflix

If you’re into tidying up, I wish you luck. If you’re excited about gorging on other people’s purged items, it seems that, whether or not Marie Kondo is responsible, now is the time to head to your local Goodwill or used book store.

Just be ready to fight for the best stuff.

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Pineapples Were Once So Expensive, People Rented Them by the Hour

Pineapples are available almost year-round in most grocery stores across the United States these days, but it wasn’t always this way. Pineapples actually have quite a long and storied history. They weren’t always as readily available as they are today, and much like anything that’s simultaneously desirable and scarce, they quickly became a symbol of wealth and status.

Between the 16th and 18th century in Europe, pineapples were actually so rare that they were put on display like fine works of art. It’s hard to estimate how much a single, whole pineapple would have cost in today’s money, guesses range between $5k-$10k – definitely not chump change for something that would eventually rot. So, why was it that valuable?

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The pineapple is indigenous to South America, which is where Europeans first encountered it. The European royals loved the fruit for its natural sweetness, but having them imported was hit-or-miss. Only the fastest ships (and ideal weather conditions) would deliver the fruit while still edible, while finding a way to grow it back home turned out to be an expensive – and not at all simple – endeavor.

We don’t know who, exactly, was responsible for first growing a pineapple in a non-tropical climate, but the consensus is that it happened in Holland in the late 1600s. The Dutch West India Company had a stranglehold on Caribbean trade that allowed them to import pineapple plants to experiment on, which almost certainly led to them being the first ones to crack the growing-tropical-fruit-in-the-cold problem.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

In fact, Dutch cloth merchant Pieter de la Court invented the hotroom – spaces kept warm and humid – to try and accomplish the task. His design worked, though issues with ventilation, the release of hot fumes, and the stability of soil and air temperatures all presented constant and evolving challenges.

England wanted pineapples, too, and so sent men to Holland in search of the secret to putting the tropical fruit on royal tables on a much more regular basis. It would be many years, however, before a pineapple was grown on English soil – and when it was (around 1715), it was a Dutchman named Henry Telende who accomplished the feat.

His method, which involved a hothouse, special soil, pits lined with pebbles, manure, and tanners bark, was a delicate balance even in the best of times, but once he got it down to a science, more English were able to afford the fruits. But even though pineapples became more available, many nobles still declined to eat something they were spending so much cash on. Instead of serving the fruit to guests, they would display the pineapples around their homes.

For lesser nobles and regular rich people (as opposed to filthy rich people), it became fashionable to rent a pineapple just for a party, then pass it around to others having parties before returning the fruit to the person who could actually afford to eat it (if they so chose).

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The fact that refined sugar was also a rare and expensive commodity only added to the allure of actually eating the fruit. Charles II was said to love pineapple – both because of its sweetness and partly because he thought the fruit looked to be wearing a tiny crown (he referred to it as “King-pine”).

People remained obsessed with the pineapple well into the colonial period, and you’ll see it carved into any number of wooden and stone pieces in both the old and new world. The fruit remained a symbol of wealth, and eventually morphed into a symbol of hospitality as well.

Fun fact: this is why you’ll still find pineapple designs on bedposts, gateposts, bath towels, and other items often left out for guests.

Fun fact #2: in colonial times, serving a pineapple upside-down cake would be a subtle way of suggesting your guests were overstaying their welcome and should make plans to depart.

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Banker Quits His Job, Dresses as Spider-Man on His Last Day

Over the years, a lot of famous actors have donned the red-and-blue tights of Spider-Man to thrill movie audiences around the world. While they’ve all been (mostly) great, I’d argue that this anonymous bank worker from Sao Paolo, Brazil, might have worn the outfit best.

He decided to slip into the spandex on his last day of work, and naturally, hilarity ensued.

Photo Credit: YouTube

Is it good or bad that he worked in the analysis department of a bank and therefore saw no customers in “uniform?”

Photo Credit: YouTube

I suppose it depends on who you ask.

Photo Credit: YouTube

His fellow employees obviously enjoyed the prank, and one of them Instagrammed the picture-perfect moment saying: “Last day of work and this person is driving the boss mad.”

Photo Credit: YouTube

Overall, everyone else was pleased he decided to show up for his last day in full Spiderman regalia. Especially since he handed out candy as part of his schtick — which perhaps makes him the best Spider-Man ever.

If you’re leaving your job and have no need of a recommendation or referral in the future, then, I mean, why not go out with a bang?

Or a web?

I, for one, salute you, sir. I just hope there were no encounters with actual radioactive spiders to make this day possible.

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8 Facts to Know About W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois was a highly influential activist and scholar who lived during the time between the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately, as has too often been the case with prominent African-Americans of that era, his contributions have been largely relegated to history books instead of celebrated the way they deserve to be.

In the spirit of Black History Month, here are 8 things you should learn about W.E.B. Du Bois.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

1. He wrote The Souls of Black Folk.

The book was a collection of sociological essays that discussed the challenges of life as an African American. One essay discussed the death of his first child, who passed from diphtheria after Du Bois spent the night looking for one of the three black doctors in Atlanta, as no white doctors would treat his son.

2. He opposed Booker T. Washington.

Du Bois publicly opposed Washington’s “Atlanta Compromise,” which placed vocational access over equality. In response, Du Bois helped found the Niagara Movement, which advocated for equal rights.

The founders of the Niagara Movement, with Du Bois in the middle row wearing the white hat
Photo Credit: Public Domain

3. He published a groundbreaking study in 1899.

His study, “The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study,” was the first major case study of a black community and one of the first data-driven social science studies.

4. He organized Pan-African Conferences.

He helped organize several Pan-African Conferences to fight racism and help end European colonialism.

5. He was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University and studied abroad at the University of Berlin in 1892. He earned his Ph.D. in 1895.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

6. He co-founded the NAACP.

Du Bois co-founded the NAACP in 1909. He acted as the organization’s director of publicity and research until 1934.

7. He became a citizen of Ghana.

Du Bois moved to Ghana at the invitation of the country’s president and became a citizen, although he never renounced his American citizenship.

Du Bois (middle) at his 95th birthday party in Ghana, 1963

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

8. He died the day before the “I Have a Dream Speech.”

Du Bois died at age 95 in Ghana on August 27, 1963. The next day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his iconic speech at the March on Washington.

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Here’s How Some of History’s Most Successful People Started Their Mornings

Everyone has their morning routines, and starting your day off on the right foot is vital to the success of your day. Some of us find it a lot harder to start our days out productively, but it’s a new year so what better time than now to get inspired for a little self-improvement?

And, what better place to get started than taking advice from some of history’s most successful people? Here are morning routines from some names you will definitely recognize. It might be time to incorporate some of these tasks into your daily routine.

1. Meditate.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Morning meditation can help get your head on straight and help you focus on what you need to achieve throughout the upcoming day. It also helps reduce anxiety.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant was a huge proponent of meditating each morning before he began his work day.

2. Treat yourself.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Even though it may feel like you’re procrastinating, doing something that you enjoy or that helps you relax each morning is very important. Before jumping into their work days, Freud had a barber trim his beard each morning, and Napoleon and Mozart spent a good amount of time primping and getting dressed.

3. Make a new resolution each morning.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Let’s look to Benjamin Franklin for this one. One of America’s greatest figures followed the same routine each day: He arose at 5 a.m. and said to himself, “What good shall I do this day?” Make each day count, just like Mr. Franklin did!

4. Take a walk.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Is there anything more relaxing and mind-clearing than taking a long walk? I think not, and I’m in good company. Charles Darwin and Georgia O’Keeffe are two examples of brilliant minds who took morning walks in order to get the creative juices flowing.

5. Work from your bed.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This one may sound a little odd, but look at the proof: The legendary French writer Voltaire regularly worked from bed and he was incredibly productive during his life, writing more than 50 plays. He was known to work 18 hour days, too, so he was clearly not a lazy guy.

Winston Churchill was also a prolific bed worker, working from there for hours each morning.

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Ladies: Your Height Can Affect the Length of Your Pregnancy

Anyone who’s ever been pregnant can attest to how endless those final few weeks can feel. You’ve waited months to meet your little one (and also to see your feet again), and the closer your due date gets the slower time seems to crawl by.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

It turns out, though, that how tall you are might have something to do with the length of your pregnancy, so I suppose my wife should be blaming genetics.

Back in 2015, a study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found a correlation between height and gestational length. Their research shows that moms who are shorter than 5’4 tend to have shorter pregnancies by .6 or .7 weeks – they also tend to have more early term births.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Also of note: a 2013 study by the National Institutes for Health found that only 4% of pregnancies last 40 weeks, and 70% of mothers give birth within 10 days of their due date.

There are some other factors we know of that also seem to influence when babies decide it’s time to emerge: embryos that take longer to implant tend to be born later, and older mothers and mothers who were large at birth tend to have longer pregnancies.

Photo Credit: Pixaaby

If you’ve already had a longer pregnancy, you’re also more likely to have another long gestation, as research has found that women tend to have consistent pregnancy lengths overall.

Unfortunately, there’s no real way to predict when you’ll go into labor, but if you’re a tall, older mom who was also a big baby, you might want to settle in for the long haul.

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8 Fun Facts to Spruce Up Your Conversation Skills

If you’re the type of person who gets nervous during conversations for lack of something interesting to say, fear not – we’ve got you covered. These fun facts are great at starting or maintaining conversations, whether it’s at a work function, or just to impress a guy or gal at your local bar.

So you have my permission to use these in conversation as you see fit. Good luck!

1. Not the same story

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2. Based on history

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3. LEGO

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4. No more edits

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5. Bet you didn’t know that

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6. That’s a long way to travel

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7. GW

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8. That’s why that happens

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Interesting!

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