What do a laundry appliance, a water toy, and a bread machine have in common? Sounds like a joke, but it's not. The answer? They were all created by Black inventors.

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You don't have to wait for Black History Month to learn about and celebrate the contributions of Black people to society!

Check out these Black inventors who brought convenience, fun,and tasty goodness into our daily lives.

1. Ellen Eglin: Convenience

Dirty laundry can pile up fast!

animated character with an exasperated expression swimming in a massive pile of laundry

Now imagine cleaning your clothes in a washing machine with no spin cycle.

young black woman with a disgusted facial expression walking away, text reads

Well thanks to Ellen Eglin, we don't have to!

As a housekeeper in the late 1800's, she was looking for way to speed up the very time consuming process of washing clothes, which was done by scrubbing clothes on a board and squeezing out the water with your hands.

Eglin built a device with two wooden rollers attached to a crank. Wet clothes were fed through the rollers, squeezing out the excess water and greatlyminimizing drying time.

image of a 1903 advertisement for a clothes ringer - source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clothes_Wringer_(1903_ad

The impact on the inventor:

Although her design revolutionized laundry chores from that day forward, Eglin lived during a time when women and people of color faced many systemic barriers to registering for patents and profiting from their inventions.

After selling her design for only $18, the clothes wringer became widely popular and made the American Wringer Company a very wealthy business.

The impact on us:

The clothes wringer was a forerunner of the modern washing machine we use today. Time saving appliances like this minimized housework and opened a world of career possibilities for women outside the home.

So next time you go to work or remove damp clothes from your machine, thank Ellen Eglin!

2. Lonnie Johnson: Fun

Imagine it's a hot summer day and you and your friends are having a massive water fight in your yard.

a boy kneeling on a grassy lawn uses a large water gun and sprays the camera

Now imagine doing it with a small water gun that only releases a few small squirts of water before it's empty.

child laying on ground crying, waving her arms and kicking her legs

Fortunately, Lonnie Johnson changed backyard fun forever with the Super Soaker water gun. While working as a jet propulsion engineer, Johnson spent his free time trying to create a cooling system that would run on water.

In the process, he "stumbled upon the concepts" that make the super soaker work using an empty soda bottle, PVC pipe, and acrylic glass.

image source: commons.wikimedia.org

Impact on the inventor:

After licensing (granting permission to use)his invention to what is now Hasbro, the Super Soaker became the best selling American toy in 1991 and 1992. Through the license royalties (cash payments) of the Super Soaker and other inventions, Johnson's wealth is estimated at over $300 million.

Impact on us:

Johnson has used his wealth to research renewable energy options including batteries, heating, and refrigeration that are better for us and for the environment.

Playing with a Super Soaker also supports several health benefits such as physical activity, brain stimulation, and tactical problem solving.

So next time you're enjoying a little water fun in your own green spaces, thank Lonnie Johnson!

3. Joseph Lee: Tasty Goodness

Mac and cheese, cinnamon rolls, meatballs, sandwiches, donuts and onion rings!

celebrity Taraji P Henson holding a plate full of food, chewing, and licking her fingers.

While you may not eat all of these in the same meal, baking these doughy treats and cooking these delicious foods made with breadcrumbs would be much more difficult without the creativity and innovation of Joseph Lee.

A baker who owned multiple restaurants, hotels, and catering businesses over 100 years ago, Joseph Leewas tackling very modern food problems — speed, consistency, and waste.

To ensure the breads in his establishments were consistent, he invented a machine to do the labor intensive process of mixing ingredients and evenly stretching and pressing the dough, known as kneading.

Disturbed by the amounts of leftover bread each day, he also invented a machine that would tear, crumble, and grind the old bread into breadcrumbs.

vintage stand mixer with dough in the bowl and wrapped around the spiral attachment. image source: commons.wikimedia.com

The impact on the inventor:

Lee obtained patents for his inventions, a crucial step to making money. He let the National Bread Company, now part of Nabisco, license (use) his kneading machine patent in exchange for stock in the company and a royalty (cash payment) for each unit sold.

He also sold the crumb machine patent to a manufacturing company. In 2019 Lee was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

gray-haired older man with an excited facial expression swinging a giant onion ring around his waist hoola hoop style

The impact on us:

Lee's inventions revolutionized commercial kitchens and helped pave the way for fast restaurant meals and for mass production of food staples that you can pick up at any grocery store or corner market.

That means you have more time for the things you love and enjoy. So the next time you grab a loaf of bread off the shelf, buy a quick meal while on the go, or enjoy your favorite breaded game day snack, thank Joseph Lee!

Take Action

While Black History Month was created to honor the contributions of the Black community each February, education and action should be a part of our schools, workplaces, and communities all year long.

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