Celebrating Black Inventors and Innovators: Part 7

Doug’s final post on Black inventors and innovators is here! We know you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have.

Doug Daye

Biscuit Cutter

From the Villa Finale Collection.

Alexander P. Ashborne was a well-known and respected caterer in Philadelphia when he came up with the idea to reinvent the way biscuits were made. While working at the 1863 Emancipation Celebration, he noticed the biscuits were hand patted and lacked definition. This led him to design a spring-loaded biscuit cutter that would allow biscuits to have more shape and form. His cutter included a board to make loading and unloading simpler. It also included metal plates with various shapes. The cook could press down on the plate to cut the dough into shapes. He received the patent for his design on November 20, 1876.

Fountain Pen and Hand Stamp

William Purvis was born into an influential family of abolitionists, educators, businessmen, and poets so his inspiration for innovation came as no coincidence. Though he had numerous other inventions, he was best known for the improvements he made to the fountain pen. His pen allowed for the elimination of ink bottles and instead used stored ink in a reservoir inside the pen. An elastic tube connected the ink reservoir and the tip of the pen. The suction and pressure in the tube regulated the flow of the ink which depended on the force and speed of the writer. The unused ink was then returned to the reservoir. He received the patent for his invention on January 7, 1890. Purvis’s fountain pen has contributed to businesses all over by making office work cleaner and more affordable.

His other inventions include a hand stamp that was able to replenish its own ink. This was the first invention he received a patent for on February 27, 1883.  

Home Security System

From the Villa Finale Collection.

In 1969, Marie Van Brittan Brown received a patent for the first home security system, along with her husband, Albert. Brown worked long hours as a nurse and had to return home at night. Her husband, a technician, also worked irregular hours which meant that she would be home alone many nights. Fearful of being vulnerable in a neighborhood with high crime, Brown decided to figure out a way to see who was at her door if she heard knocking. In 1966 she went to work designing a security system with her husband’s assistance. The system included four peep holes, a sliding camera, television monitors, and two-way microphones. This created a closed-circuit television system for surveillance called CCTV. Brown’s invention contributed to the design of modern home security systems.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about how Black inventors contributed to our society! Be sure to learn about more Black inventors and their inventions from the Black Inventions Museum: https://theblackinventionsmuseum.org

Also, please come visit us at Villa Finale to see these objects for yourself!

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!

Walls Do Talk! The Snapshot

There was a time during the pandemic when Villa Finale had to close its doors to the public. We took advantage of the lack of foot traffic to begin some much-needed maintenance work. If you visit us now, you can still see some of that going on. While I was deep cleaning throughout the house, Buildings and Grounds Manager, Orlando Cortinas was busy overseeing painting, restoration of porches, and cracks in walls.

One morning while I was busy working upstairs, Orlando called me down to the basement where he had been busy in the crawlspace looking at foundation issues: he had found something interesting and wanted me to look at it. Last time this happened a few years ago during the re-wiring of the house, electricians found old Coca-Cola cans and old wallpaper inside the home’s walls. I was excited to see what he’d found, but nothing prepared me for the great discovery!

Orlando in Villa Finale’s basement crawlspace, summer 2020.

Tucked between the limestone blocks was what looked like, at first, a piece of paper which turned out to be a photograph of a young woman. Thankfully Orlando was careful to pull it out without so much as a slight tear. After the initial surprise and careful cleaning, I began to wonder, who was this woman and why had she been in our walls for nearly 100 years? We were all eager to share this find with the public but not until we knew more about the mysterious gal: now we do!

Capturing the moment of the find!

Thanks to a source who asked to remain anonymous, we discovered her name was Matilda Fausse. Our source’s grandmother had shared a room with Matilda in the late teens when the property, then at 407 King William, was under the control of the War Service Board; the Board would rent out rooms in the house to visiting female relatives of soldiers stationed at the nearby Arsenal, now HEB headquarters.

Ad for rooms for rent at what is now Villa Finale, San Antonio Express News, 1920s.

Matilda was apparently quite the character, always the life of the party and a progressive woman for the time. In fact, after working odd jobs and saving her money, Matilda insisted on paying to have a private telephone line installed in her room, the only one in the house. According to our source’s grandmother, Matilda was more than happy to let all the girls in the house use her telephone to call their men on base, and vice versa. When a girl’s beau would call, he knew “Telephone Tilly,” as Matilda became to be known, would connect them to their favorite gal. The telephone was the only way a girl’s beloved would be allowed “in the house” and Telephone Tilly was more than happy to make “virtual dates” happen! Allegedly, the photo we found was taken at the height of Tilly’s popularity with her fellow boarders.

But what started out as innocent fun and games crossed the line. Soon, Telephone Tilly was playing match-maker for half of the young women in San Antonio via the telephone. Calls were coming in day and night for weeks: 1:30am, RING! 3:00am, RING! 3:45am, RING! Sleep was non-existent for the rest of the girls who had had more than enough of Tilly. Everyone was walking around with huge dark circles under their eyes! They wanted sleep, desperately! One chilly fall evening in the middle of the night, Telephone Tilly – and yes, her phone, too – were escorted out of the house and onto King William Street never to be heard from again.

Photograph being added to our archives.

Exhausted, the female boarders took Tilly’s photograph and stuffed it in the basement crawlspace where not even the telephone in the picture could ever keep them from sleeping again … until our discovery in the summer of 2020, that is. No one knows what happened to Matilda “Telephone Tilly” Fausse. Some say she started her own party line. Others think she opened a coffee house / telephone bar east of New Braunfels called “Hello, Is It Bean You’re Looking For?” Whatever happened to our gal, next time you hear a phone ring think of Telephone Tilly, and on behalf of Villa Finale, do have a HAPPY APRIL FOOLS DAY!

Anonymous girl on telephone Photoshopped on Stein Photography mat, San Antonio. Source: Pinterest

Thank you to Orlando Cortinas for going into the basement crawlspace for the sake of this April Fools Day blog post!