Black History 365 – The first Black person to… hold a patent

In 2016 for my Black History 365 series, I explore the obvious and not so obvious parts of American history that those called Black have taken part in. The things that we (Black people) have done other than be stolen from our homeland and made forced labor in a land foreign to us. I’m going to start this series by looking up the first time someone African-American did something and broke the color barrier in that activity or field. I’ll be starting with Wikipedia and working my way out:

I will be learning a lot of this as I go since I am a product of the standardized Euro/Anglo/Caucasian leaning public school system. I hope you enjoy learning with me. I’ll be going down the list chronologically as it appears in the Wikipedia article.

If you have any other sources or additional information for this topic, please share in the comments. I also welcome any and all comments and discussion. Thanks for reading!

For my eleventh entry this year:

1821:  First African American to hold a patent: Thomas L. Jennings, for a dry-cleaning process

(There was no image on the Wikipedia article and the image I found in the Google image search apparently is NOT of Thomas Jennings)

Thomas L. Jennings (1791–1856) was an African-American tradesman and abolitionist. He was a free black who operated a dry-cleaning business in New York CityNew York, and was the first African American to be granted a patent.[1] Jennings’ skills along with a patent granted by the state of New York on March 3, 1821, for a dry-cleaning process called “dry scouring” enabled him to build his business. He spent his early earnings on legal fees to purchase his family out of slavery, and supporting the abolitionist movement. In 1831, Jennings became assistant secretary to theFirst Annual Convention of the People of Color in PhiladelphiaPennsylvania, which met in June 1831.

Jennings’ patent resulted in a considerable amount of controversy. The U.S. patent laws of 1793 stated that “the master is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual,” thus slaves could not patent their own inventions, the efforts would be the property of their master. Thomas Jennings was able to gain exclusive rights to his invention because of his status of being a free man. In 1861 patent rights were finally extended to slaves.


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