From 1706 to the present, African Americans have been in the forefront of inventions, medical breakthroughs, and medical firsts. The pioneering medical and scientific achievements of men and women of African descent were accomplished despite their historical limitations and conditions. A video guide explaining how to search for inventions patented by African Americans is also available.
Whether you are interested in finding information about an African American scientist or inventor for a school report or for fun, this guide can help with your research.
The African American Department and the Business, Science, and Technology Department both have information on African American scientists and inventors. To begin your search, start with the following resources:
- Biographical dictionaries and other books about African American scientists and inventors (see our Sources list for suggested titles).
- Biographical databases
- Vertical file materials (use the index to help identify your topic or person).
- Patent information for a particular inventor. Our How to Search for Patents guide gives information on conducting a search.
If you are searching for a contemporary scientist or inventor you may also consider searching our magazine collection, in print and through our databases.
- The Periodicals Department of the Pratt Library has an extensive collection of magazines including several scientific journals. These sources can be helpful in locating information about current African American scientists and inventors.
- Popular African American magazines such as Jet or Ebony are also good starting points.
Resources about African American scientists and inventors are located in the African American Department and the Business, Science and Technology Department. The Children’s Department and Student Express also additional resources geared towards children and young adults. Librarians in these departments can help you in locating information on your topic both online and in print.
Amram, Fred M. B. African American Inventors. Mankato: Capstone Press, 1996. jT39 .A55 1996 (Children’s Department)
This book, one of a series of three, has biographies of modern and historic inventors. There are also resources for further research, including addresses to write to for more information. Grades 3 and up.
Gibbs, Carroll. Black Inventors from Africa to America: Two Million Years of Invention and Innovation. Silver Spring: Three Dimensional Publishing, 1995. T39 .G52 1995q. (African American/Business, Science, and Technology Department)
An excellent source which features an eighty-page list of information on inventions. Included in this work are biographical sketches, pictures of inventions and inventors. This book is an excellent source for students or others looking for specific inventor information.
Haskins, Jim. Outward Dreams: Black Inventors and their Inventions. New York: Bantam Books, 1992. T39 .H37 1991 (African American/Business, Science, and Technology/Children’s Departments and Student Express)
This slim volume offers chapters on women and modern inventors as well as on well-known figures such as Lewis Latimer. There is an appendix of inventions by African Americans from 1834-1900 as well. Grades 4 and up.
Hayden, Robert C. 7 African-American Scientists. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1992. Q141 .H37 1992 (African American/Business, Science, and Technology/Children’s Departments)
This title covers well-known scientists, including Shirley A. Jackson and Charles Henry Turner. It's an excellent place to begin a research assignment. Grades 4 and up.
Kesslyer, James H., J.S. Kidd, Renee A. Kidd, and Katherine A. Morin. Distinguished African American Scientists of the 20th Century. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1996. Q141 .D535 1996q (African American/Business, Science, and Technology Departments and Student Express)
This resource is made up of 100 biographies of scientists which are arranged alphabetically, as well as being indexed chronologically and by area of research. Each biography includes the date and location of the scientist's birth, their education, area of research, and more extensive essays on their early years, higher education and career highlights.
Krapp, Kristine M. Notable Black American Scientists. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999. Q141 .N726 1999q. (African American/Business, Science, and Technology Departments)
This work is a collection of biographical entries about African American scientists from many fields including engineers, chemists, physicists, microbiologists and physicians. A good source about pioneering and contemporary scientists who have made significant contributions to the world.
McKissack, Patricia and Frederick. African-American Inventors. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1994. T39 .M45 1994. (African American/Children’s Department)
The McKissacks have teamed up to produce this excellent volume from the “A Proud Heritage” series. They begin with a chapter on patent history and law, and then launch into chapters that are divided into people and subject areas. Grades 4 and up.
Rennert, Richard, ed. Pioneers of Discovery. New York : Chelsea House Publishers, 1994. Q141 .P49 1994. (African American/Business, Science, and Technology/Children’s Departments and Student Express)
Coretta Scott King introduces this title from the Profiles of Great Black Americans Series. It discusses eight scientists and provides further resources. Grades 4 and up.
Sammons, Vivian O. Blacks in Science and Medicine. New York: Hemisphere Publishing Corp., 1990. Q141 .B32 1990q. (African American/Business, Science, and Technology Departments and Student Express)
This book includes more that 1,500 African Americans who have made significant scientific and medical accomplishments. Also noted are African Americans who were “first” in their fields and “first” inventions.
Sluby, Patricia Carter. The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004. T39 .S57 2004. (African American/Business, Science, and Technology Departments)
Unlike similar collections of African American inventor biographies, this book highlights the contributions of Africans and “people of color” inventors. The brief biographies of the inventors, pictures, and actual patents make this a great source for those who are researching this topic. Included in this work are also African American women inventors.
St. John, Jetty. African-American Scientists. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 1996. jQ141 .S75 1996. (Children’s Department)
Five modern African American scientists are featured in this book. A glossary of terms, as well as other resources, appears at the back. Grades 3 and Up.
Sullivan, Otha Richard. African American Inventors. New York: Wiley, 1998. T39 .S98 1998. (African American/Business, Science, and Technology Departments and Student Express)
Arranged by era, from pre-Civil War times to the modern era, 25 inventors are profiled. Pictures, illustrations, or other facts of interest are included in each biography.
Sullivan, Otha Richard. African American Women Scientists & Inventors. New York: J. Wiley, 2002. T39 .S985 2002. (African American/Business, Science, and Technology Departments and Student Express)
Arranged by era, from civil war times to the modern era, 25 women are profiled. Pictures, illustrations, or other facts of interest are included in each biography.
Webster, Raymond B. African American Firsts in Science and Technology. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Q141 .W43 1999. (African American/Business, Science, and Technology Departments)
This important work is a compilation of African America scientist and inventors who were the “first” in their fields. These pioneers in the fields of science and technology are highlighted for their many extraordinary accomplishments dating from 1753 to 1998. A good reference source for anyone interested in other aspects of African American inventors.
Wilson, Donald and Jane Wilson. The Pride of African American History: Inventors, Scientists, Physicians, Engineers: Featuring Many Outstanding African Americans and More than 1,000 African American Inventions Verified by U.S. Patent Numbers. Birmingham: DCW Publishing Company, 2003. T39 .W55 2003q. (African American/Business, Science, and Technology Departments and Student Express)
This text documents the stories of over eleven hundred African American inventors whose devices are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This book contains an ongoing list of inventors in alphabetical order. An excellent source for gaining more knowledge about African American inventors and biographical information on specific African American scientists, engineers, physicians and inventors. A good source for middle and high school students.
The Pratt Library subscribes to a number of electronic databases, many of which can be accessed either in the library or from home with a Pratt Library Card.
- African American Biographical Database (accessible in all Pratt Library branches)
This index provides information about some of the famous scientists and inventors. More obscure inventors may not be found in this database.
- Biography and Genealogy Master Index (accessible in all Pratt Library branches)
This index provides current, readily available reference and important works that span the individual life. This index will also enable you to find publications to consult for biographical information about a particular scientist or inventor.
- Biography Resource Center (accessible in all Pratt Library branches, or from home with your Pratt Library card)
This resource provides short biographical information for the more well-known scientists and inventors.
Websites that can be used to locate information about African American scientists and inventors include:
- African American Astronauts: Former, Current, and Candidate
NASA’s guide includes links to biographies of more than a dozen astronauts.
- African-American Bibliography- Science, Medicine, and Allied Fields
This is part of the New York State Library's series, An African-American Bibliography. Scroll down to the "U.S. Patents" section to find the patent numbers from African American inventors.
- African American Inventors Database
Contains inventor, invention, patent number and patent issue date for each item.
- African American Patent Holders Database (PDF)
Presented by the Black Studies Library of the Ohio State University Libraries.
- Black Inventors A-Z
This web site contains biographies of 80 inventors. It also lists several hundred patents awarded to African Americans. These patent numbers can be used to find more detailed information about the invention from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
- Black Scientists and Inventors
This web site provides an overview of African American scientists and inventors, with brief biographies. Links to more detailed biographies are included for some individuals.
- Colors of Innovation
A list of trivia and facts related to African American inventors and inventions on the USPTO Kids’ Pages.
- Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences
Highlights the achievements of African American men and women who have contributed to the advancement of science and engineering.
- Famous Black Inventors
About.com offers several resources including an A-Z listing of inventors by name, and several articles on the topic of African American inventors. Within each article there are links to pictures, further readings on the inventions and more.
- Google Patent Search
A powerful tool enabling patent searches by patent number, name, invention name, and keyword.
- Inventions and Patents of African-Americans - 19th Century
An index to the inventions, inventors, date, and patent number compiled from books and magazines owned by the St. Louis Public Library.
- Mathematicians of the African Diaspora
History of, information about and biographies of Blacks in the mathematical sciences.
- The Museum of Black Innovations and Inventors
This is the web site of a museum that has created several traveling exhibitions about African American inventors. The site includes photographs as well as historical and biographical information.
- NASA Chats
NASA has hosted many live chats with African American scientists and astronauts. You can read chat transcripts, autobiographies, and field journals! Come to this site to be inspired and view the cutting edge of space research. Grades 3 and up.
- Notable African American Scientists and Inventors
This division of the Infoplease Biography section focuses on major African American Scientists and Inventors. Each biography is limited to a brief paragraph including major biographical information and accomplishments.
- Scholastic: Top Ten African-American Inventors
This site contains brief biographies of 10 inventors, with portraits and illustrations of their inventions. It also includes links to more detailed biographies.
- Stamp on Black History
This website, which was created by students, is dedicated to African Americans who have appeared on United States stamps. These included mathematicians and scientists. There are also bibliographies, games, and activities. Grades 3 and up.
- The United States Patent and Trademark Office
This site contains records of all patents awarded in the United States since 1790. The records include images and explanatory text. Patents filed prior to 1975 can only be searched by patent number.
- United States Patent and Trademark Office Kids’ Pages: Be A Patent Detective!
Offers a brief tutorial for kids on finding patent information using patent number, inventor’s name or key words.
If you have any questions about how to get started or need help using some of these sources, please e-mail us at email@example.com, call at (410) 361-9287, or contact us by mail:
African American Department
Enoch Pratt Free Library
State Library Resource Center
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Produced by the Enoch Pratt Free Library Central Library / State Library Resource Center / African American Department