Celebrating Black Inventors and Innovators: Part 3

Doug has more fascinating information for our readers in part three of his series, “Celebrating Black Inventors and Innovators.”

Doug Daye

Corn Planter

Majolica pitcher in the shape of a corn husk (from the Villa Finale Collection).

Henry Blair was a farmer and inventor who became only the second black man to receive a U.S. patent for the mechanical corn planter in 1834. Though there is limited information about his early life, it is known that he was never enslaved (which determined his eligibility to apply for a patent since slaves could not apply for a patent with the U.S. government). He also ran his own commercial farming business despite the fact that he could not read or write. He received his patent on October 4, 1834 in Glen Ross, Maryland.  His design for the corn planter favored a wheelbarrow with a compartment that dispersed seed. Rakes attached to the back were dragged over the seed covering them with soil. Blair’s invention produced a more efficient way to plant crops and made labor easier for farmers.

Baby Buggy

Mathis family convertible high chair (from the Villa Finale Collection).

William H. Richardson made improvements to the baby buggy, for which received a patent on June 18, 1889, producing the first reversible baby carriage. Opposite of the original baby carriage design by Englishman William Kent in 1773, William’s design allowed for the bassinet to be turned facing the person operating the carriage. Changes were made so that the wheels would be able to turn individually, allowing the carriage to turn at a smaller radius of 360 degrees. He also designed the carriages to have the shape of a basket instead of a shell, like it was originally. Thanks to Richardson, strollers became more affordable and middle-class families were able to acquire them in the 1900s. He definitely made things a bit easier for parents and babysitters!

Lawn Mower

Villa Finale’s rear lawn.

John Albert Burr worked as a field hand in Maryland during his late teenage years after he was freed from slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation. His talent was recognized by wealthy black activists who made it possible for him to take engineering classes at a private university. He then went on to use his mechanical skills to service farm equipment and ended up moving to Chicago to become a steelworker. Later, in 1898, he filed his patent for the rotary lawn mower while living in Agawam, Massachusetts. His design helped limit clogs of grass and made it easier to cut closer to walls and fences. He also designed instruments for mulching, sifting, and dispersing grass clippings. His patent was finalized on May 9, 1899.