Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Black History Month

All through the month of February we are instructed to celebrate Black History. We are going to do that by correcting some of the myths circulated throughout the month of February. Each day there will be another entry of the myths of black inventions.
For the record, I am not the author of the following.

Black Invention Myths

Perhaps you've heard the claims: Were it not for the genius and energy of African-American inventors, we might find ourselves in a world without traffic lights, peanut butter, blood banks, light bulb filaments, and a vast number of other things we now take for granted but could hardly imagine life without.

Such beliefs usually originate in books or articles about black history. Since many of the authors have little interest in the history of technology outside of advertising black contributions to it, their stories tend to be fraught with misunderstandings, wishful thinking, or fanciful embellishments with no historical basis. The lack of historical perspective leads to extravagant overestimations of originality and importance: sometimes a slightly modified version of a pre-existing piece of technology is mistaken for the first invention of its type; sometimes a patent or innovation with little or no lasting value is portrayed as a major advance, even if there's no real evidence it was ever used.

Unfortunately, some of the errors and exaggerations have acquired an illusion of credibility by repetition in mainstream outlets, especially during Black History Month (see examples for the traffic light and ironing board). When myths go unchallenged for too long, they begin to eclipse the truth. Thus I decided to put some records straight. Although this page does not cover every dubious invention claim floating around out there, it should at least serve as a warning never to take any such claim for granted.

Each item below is listed with its supposed black originator beneath it along with the year it was supposedly invented, followed by something about the real origin of the invention or at least an earlier instance of it.

Traffic Signal
Invented by Garrett A. Morgan in 1923?
No, it wasn't!
The first known traffic signal appeared in London in 1868 near the Houses of Parliament. Designed by JP Knight, it featured two semaphore arms and two gas lamps. The earliest electric traffic lights include Lester Wire's two-color version set up in Salt Lake City circa 1912, James Hoge's system (US patent #1,251,666) installed in Cleveland by the American Traffic Signal Company in 1914, and William Potts' 4-way red-yellow-green lights introduced in Detroit beginning in 1920. New York City traffic towers began flashing three-color signals also in 1920.

Garrett Morgan's cross-shaped, crank-operated semaphore was not among the first half-hundred patented traffic signals; nor was it "automatic" as is sometimes claimed; nor did it play any part in the evolution of the modern traffic light. See Inventing History: Garrett Morgan and the Traffic Signal.

For a more complete report on the histroy of the traffic signal and the black myth surronding it, click here: http://www33.brinkster.com/iiiii/trfclt/


Whitey Lawful said...

Ok - have it your way. In Africa they can only invent disease, poverty and war. Still native negroidal culture in America have a chance to affirm and assert liberty. Liberty is refused by many whites and not a matter of character by many more. Despite your attempts of advocating a white one-worldism--wich is a fantastic ideal--of indifference and still excludes 'white' Mohammedans of Eastern Europe and Caucasians of the mid-east. So join with the Papist--losing oneself and its culture -- further -- with so-called Christian Identity.

Anonymous said...


Will you quiet down? "Oh, blacks can't do anything, they didn't actually do this, they didn't actually do that, etcetera, etcetera." Stop your lame attempts to try to find a way to feel superior to others! I laugh at myself when I see these kinds of posts. Accept the fact that bigotry hasn't been accepted in America for quite a while!

Anonymous said...

from about.com: "Other inventors had experimented with, marketed, and even patented traffic signals, however, Garrett Morgan was one of the first to apply for and acquire a U.S. patent for an inexpensive to produce traffic signal."

Very often the person who invented something or who got there first is not as important as the person who succeeded in successfully popularizing and bringing to market a given device. The same goes for explorers. Did Columbus prove the world was round? No. Did he discover America? No. What he did was make the Americas a viable commercial investment for some very influential people.

I'd wager that your month-long rebukes of black inventors fails to see the forest for the trees here. Inventors are people who create things they didn't already have. Whether or not someone else got there first is largely irrelevant, because 100 years ago, who the hell knew what was going on in other countries and who was inventing what if the stuff didn't make it to market? The guy who wins the game is the guy who patents the thing and makes the money.

Besides, the entire point of Black History Month is to let black kids know that there are actual intelligent black people in the past and present, so they have some heroes in the world of science to look up to. You want to take that away from them because of the technicality of a "patent" versus an "invention"? That's some mighty fine hair-splitting, Pastor Rob.

Anonymous said...

To the spin doctor above. News to you. Not only did these black "inventors" not invent the things that some are trying to give them credit for, they were for the most part "johnny come late" "inventions" that had nothing to contribute to the evolution of these inventions.
I am sorry giving black kids therapy is not as important as the truth.
Pastor Robb is to be congratulated for providing truth over convenience.

Anonymous said...

If I you're so concerned about the truth, I sure hope you'll burn your Elvis Presley records because he stole the music of black people.