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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI exhibit and forum feature tribute to black inventors, scientists, and engineers, Feb. 16

Media Contact: Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-4500

KINGSTON, R.I. – February 1, 2010 -- Many Americans are aware of the famous inventions of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. But few know the contributing facts about some of their inventions.

The Black Inventors Exhibit at the University of Rhode Island will consider the record of contributions of people like Granville Woods (1856-1910), Lewis Latimer (1848-1928), and other African-American men and women to science, technology, and industry. The exhibit will be on display from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010 in the University of Rhode Island Memorial Union, Atrium #2, in observance of Black History Month and the 11th annual Black Family Technology Awareness Week.

A forum on the significance of race and gender in science and technology, and an exploration of perceptions of underrepresented groups by and about science and technology will follow the exhibit opening at 4 p.m. in Atrium I of the Memorial Union. Panelists will include Carroll Lamb, curator of the Black Inventors Exhibit; Norman Barber, Adjunct Lecturer, African-American Studies; Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs and Natural Resource Sciences Professor Donald DeHayes; and Dean, Graduate School and Professor, Biomedical Sciences Nasser Zawia. These events are free and open to the public.

Examples of little known facts are that Bell’s company, Bell Telephone, purchased the rights to a device combining the telegraph and telephone from Woods, an African-American railway employee; or that Edison’s company, General Electric, lost a law suit to gain control of Woods’ research and subsequently offered him a prominent engineering position.

Another African-American, Latimer, joined the engineering department of Edison’s company and became one of his most important collaborators, improving the filament of the incandescent light bulb and developing the electric lamp. A contemporary, Madame C. J. Walker (1867-1919) invented products for hair growth and straightening, becoming the first African-American woman millionaire and a major philanthropist to artists during the Harlem Renaissance.

Building on the 19th and early 20th century records of Henry E. Baker, an assistant examiner in the U. S. Patent Office and an African-American graduate of Harvard, the full exhibit provides examples of devices, patent designs, personal letters, and rare photographs relating to over 100 patents by African-Americans during the eras of slavery and post-slavery that have initiated or improved electronic communications on railways, traffic flow, the making and repair of shoes, the refining of sugar from cane and beets, protection from gas warfare, dehydration of food for rationing, dry cleaning of clothes, domestic and agricultural machinery, and hair care.

In more recent years, African-Americans have contributed innovations in the use of automatic refrigeration on trucks, storage of blood plasma for open heart surgery, gear for space travel, derivation of peanut products, methods of energy conservation, cataract surgery, synthesis of medical drugs, software development, the SuperSoaker, and electronic controls for guided missiles, computers, and pacemakers.

The tribute exhibit and forum are sponsored by the University of Rhode Island Multicultural Center, the Student Senate, the Alumni of Color Network, the Multicultural Unity and Student Involvement Council (M.U.S.I.C.), the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of Student Life, and the African-American-Studies Program.

The student organizations that have coordinated this event and implemented a platform to bring the exhibit back to URI include: Powerful Independent Notoriously Knowledgeable (PINK) Women, Uhuru Sasa, National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE), Cape Verdean Student Association (CVSA), Brothers On A New Direction (BOND), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Student Alliance for the Welfare of Africa (SAWA), and the Black American Society (BAS).