- Alexander Lucius Twilight was the first African American to receive a college degree. He
earned a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in 1823.
- Elbert Frank Cox became the first Black to hold a doctorate degree in mathematics
which he received from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY in 1925.
- W.E.B. Du Bois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. He is
perhaps best known for his work in founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909 and helping it to become the country’s single most influential organization for African Americans.
- Louis Latimer was the only African American engineer/scientist member of the elite
Edison Pioneers research and development organization. Until Latimer’s process for
making carbon filament, Edison’s light bulbs would burn only for a few minutes. Latimer’s
filament burned for hours.
- A tailor in New York City, Thomas L. Jennings is credited with being the first African
American to hold a U.S. patent. The patent, which was issued in 1821, was for a drycleaning
- Benjamin Bradley, a slave, was employed at a printing office and later at the Annapolis
Naval Academy. In the 1840s he developed a steam engine for a war ship. Unable to
patent his work, he sold it and used the proceeds to purchase his freedom.
- Garrett Augustus Morgan invented a smoke hood in 1916 that he used to rescue several
men trapped by an explosion in tunnels under Lake Erie. This invention was later refined
by the U.S. Army into the gas mask, which was used to protect soldiers from chlorine
fumes during World War I. He also invented an early version of a traffic signal that
featured automated STOP and GO signs.