Celebrating Black Inventors and Innovators: Part 6

Doug Daye’s second to last post covering Black inventors and innovators is here for your reading pleasure! (All featured images are from Villa Finale’s collection.)

Doug Daye


On November 15, 1898, Lyda Newman received the patent for the first hairbrush with synthetic bristles. Her design for an improved hairbrush was inspired by her own experience as a Black woman and a hairdresser. Prior to her invention, hairbrushes had been made of animal hair which were soft and not sufficient for treating the thickness of African American hair. Newman’s design included synthetic fibers which were more durable and made cleaning easier. The brush used evenly spaced rows of bristles to clear away debris into a compartment that could be opened with a button and cleaned out. Newman’s invention changed the hair care industry and paved the way for two other notable Black female inventors – Madam C.J. Walker and Marjorie Joyner – to revolutionize hair care.

Automatic Fishing Pole

George Cook received a patent for his improved Automatic Fishing Device on October 10, 1899. His device featured a trip lever that was triggered by tension. When fish would nibble at the bait, the rod would be set to tip up to hook the fish automatically. A spring-loaded carriage would be released that would immediately slide back on short rails in the frame of the device. It also included an alarm gong that would ring by releasing a spring-operated striker. Cook’s invention contributed to sport fishing and outdoor leisure.

Telephone System and Apparatus

Granville T. Woods made many contributions to the advancement of communications and railways. He was born to free African Americans and held various engineering and industrial jobs before starting his own company. His most notable invention was an apparatus that combined a telephone and telegraph which was called the “induction telegraph” or block system. Woods’s design allowed for railroad workers to communicate by voice to one another through telegraph wires. This made communication faster and prevented accidents. He received his patent on October 11, 1887. He was called “Black Edison” after defeating a lawsuit by Thomas Edison that challenged his patent and after declining Edison’s offer to become partner.

Look for the last and final part of Doug’s “Black Inventors and Innovators” series next month!

Celebrating Black Inventors and Innovators: Part 5

It has been a while but here is Doug Daye with part five of Black inventors and innovators.

Doug Daye

Air Conditioning Unit

Villa Finale has central air now, but back when it was first built transoms helped with air flow to keep the rooms cool.

Accomplished inventor Fredrich M. Jones was led to research refrigeration techniques in order to store blood serum and medications during World War II. He created an air conditioning unit to be used in military field hospitals as well as a refrigerator to be used in military field kitchens. Jones was also awarded 60 other patents for various inventions in his lifetime which included, window air conditioning units and ice cream making machines. He was the first African American elected into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers and was also a consultant for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Bureau of Standards. Jones received his patent for the air conditioning unit on July 12, 1942. (Thanks to Jones, we have a way to cool off in the Texas summer heat!!!)

Photo Print Wash

Photos of Walter Mathis’ maternal grandparents located in Villa Finale’s Green Bedroom.

Clatonia Joaquin Dorticus created an improved photographic print wash machine which he received his patent for on April 23, 1895. In the process of photo developing, Dorticus created a method that would eliminate over washing that would make the photograph too soft and stick to the sides of the tank. His design included an automatic register and automatic water shut off to conserve water. Also, a removable false bottom was used on the washer, in order to protect the prints and negatives from chemicals and sediment that remained in the tank. His design went on to be cited in five other patents for photographic film and print washers filed over the next 100 years!


On December 10, 1878, Osbourn Dorsey patented the design for the first modern doorknob at sixteen years old! Not much is known about his life other than that he was possibly born into slavery in 1862 but was freed before his first birthday. Most of the information on Dorsey and his inventions comes from examining his patents. Prior to his invention, people would open and close doors by using leather straps or latches which were not the most effective. Dorsey’s “door holding device” as he called it, allowed for a more effective way to secure a door. It was also the first doorknob design fit for manufacturing. While the general public was slow to adopt the doorknob, it eventually became a significant device in public and private spaces that is still used to this day!

Celebrating Black Inventors and Innovators: Part Two

Ready for part two of “Celebrating Black Inventors”? Here’s Doug with more!

Museum Interpreter, Doug Daye


Watercolor of man with guitar by artist Wayman Adams (from the Villa Finale Collection).

Robert Flemming Jr. a former civil war veteran and former slave, had the guitar patented on March 3rd, 1886. He also received a Canadian patent on April 5, 1887. Flemming’s guitar, which was called the “Euphonica,” produced a louder and more resonant sound than the traditional guitars. With the success of his guitar, he went on to become a music teacher and run his own guitar manufacturing business. Flemming’s guitar design is still used to this day!

Player Piano & Arm for Record Player

Villa Finale’s 1957 Decca HiFi record player can only be viewed during our special “Music for Your Eyes” tours (from the Villa Finale Collection).

Joseph Dickenson was a musical instrument designer born in Canada in 1855. He moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1870, where he joined the very prominent Clough and Warren Organ Company designing his own successful line of reed organs. He also developed new devices to improve the function of the previous player pianos. Dickinson’s new piano could begin playing at any point in the musical roll and did not have to start at the beginning. His new player pianos became highly sought after. His invention was patented on June 11, 1912.

He received a number of other patents for his musical inventions, including the arm for the record player which he received a patent for on January 8, 1918.

Electric Lamp

One of the many lamps with lusters found throughout Villa Finale (from the Villa Finale Collection).

While Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of the light bulb, it was Lewis Latimerwho had the idea to create the electric lamp with his partner Joseph N. Nichols. After fighting briefly in the Civil War, Latimer went to receive work as an office assistant at a patent firm where he fostered his skill for drafting and was soon able to do blueprint work. This gained the attention of Alexander Graham Bell who had him draw blueprints for the telephone. He went on to work for Hiram Maxim whose United States Electric Company was in competition with Thomas Edison. Latimer supervised the installation of the electric light bulb in various locations but came up with the idea to create a longer lasting bulb which used carbon filaments, resulting in the creation of the electric lamp. He and Nichols patented the electric lamp on September 18, 1881 and went on to work for Edison himself.

To learn more about Lewis Latimer, check out this article from the National Trust for Historic Preservation!


Stay tuned for Part 3!!

Celebrating Black Inventors and Innovators: Part One

Happy February to all! Doug is back with part one of a new post celebrating the contributions of innovative and forward-thinking African Americans. Do enjoy!

Doug Daye

Did you know that African Americans are responsible for creating many common items that we use today? Their innovative ideas have contributed to history and helped to improve our everyday lives. Let’s honor their scientific achievements by looking through the items we have on site at Villa Finale!


The refrigerator in Villa Finale’s kitchen takes us back to those groovy colors of the 1970s.

John Standard sought to improve the way people cooked and stored food in the kitchen. He pursued scientific research on cooling devices and stove constructions, which was very limited to the Black community at the time. He created a way to improve the design of refrigerators by using manually filled ice chambers for chilling and was given a patent on June 14, 1891.

Heating Furnace

Furnace in Villa Finale’s Pewter Room. (Note: the giant stein is not part of the furnace!)

Alice Parker was well known for patented system of central heating using natural gas. After finding that her fireplace was not enough to heat her home through the cold winters, she was inspired to come up with a new design to heat homes. Her design allowed for cool air to travel into the furnace, then be carried through a heat exchanger that delivered warm air through ducts in individual rooms of a house. She received her patent on December 23rd, 1919. Thanks to her, we don’t need a stove like this anymore to get warm!!

Bicycle Frame

Cycling: not an activity for respectable young ladies!

Though he was not the first person to invent the bicycle frame, Issac R. Johnson was the first African American to invent and patent a bicycle frame that could be easily folded or taken apart for storage. It could be used for traveling on vacation and stored in small spaces. While it was a challenge for African Americans to receive patents, especially in the 1800s, Johnson succeeded and received his patent on October 10, 1899. Though they do not fold up, Johnson’s bicycle frame pattern is still used on bicycles to this day!

Furniture Caster

Victorian furniture is heavy enough. Thank you, Mr. Fisher!

Furniture workers faced the issue of moving heavy furniture while endangering their physical safety, as well as dropping furniture and damaging other items in the room. On March 4, 1876,  David A. Fisher patented the furniture caster. His design was for a free turning wheel, coupled with a few others, to allow the safe and efficient movement of heavy items from room to room. With this, Fisher improved the needs of furniture workers in the industry by making their work much easier and safer.

Stay tuned for Part 2!!!