Match the Innovators With the Effects of Their Contributions

Match the Innovators With the Effects of Their Contributions.


  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Findings
  • Discussion

The history of Black people’s contributions to the itemize of inventions that marked the Industrial Revolution has been largely muted. This period is considered one of the nearly innovative eras in earth history, seeing the birth of major advances in agronomics, transportation, communications, manufacturing, and electricity that fueled rapid economic growth. With the exception of a few notable inventors who are regularly elevated during Black History Month—e.g., George Washington Carver (peanut products) and Madam C. J. Walker (hair products)—the condone of many of the era’s Black inventors not only whitewashes the historical record, but biases who we perceive to be innovators in the present.

Using a new database of inventors, this report demonstrates that Black contributions to the Industrial Revolution were influenced by the disproportionate number of Black Americans who lived in the U.S. South in the late 19th and early 20th century, where their opportunities to acquire and apply skills were severely limited by oppressive institutions. Yet, Black Americans living outside the South invented near as ofttimes every bit white Americans, and at rates that would be considered extremely high by historic or global standards of invention fifty-fifty today. We use a novel database created by Sarada, Michael Andrews, and Nicolas Ziebarth that matches inventors listed on patent records in decennial years from 1870 to 1940 to consummate census records, which include demographic information for the named inventors.1

The data reveals the following:

  • From 1870 to 1940, Black people living in the Due north were eight times more likely to be awarded a patent than Black people living in the South. White people in the North were three times more probable to invent a patented technology than white people in the Southward, but regional effects were weaker for white people and they were much less full-bodied in the South than Blackness people.
  • In the North, Black people’s share of patents equaled their share of population.
    Black people deemed for 1.6% of the Northward’s population and one.half dozen% of patents beyond the decades studied. The charge per unit of patenting per capita amid northern Black and white residents was extremely high (0.31 per ane,000 residents for Black people and 0.39 for white people). Both of these rates exceed the U.S. rate of invention for most of the country’due south history and approach the highest rates observed around the earth today at the country level.2
  • With l,000 total patents, Blackness people deemed for more inventions during this period than immigrants from every country except England and Germany.
    In our database, 87% of inventions were traced to people born in the United States, and of the U.South. total were invented by Blackness Americans, which is a larger share than nearly every immigrant grouping. Afterwards accounting for patents during nondecennial years, nosotros estimate that Black people accounted for just nether 50,000 total patents during this period.

Given the vast differences between the North and Southward in providing both skill-generating and skill-using opportunities, this historical research points to the importance of linking political equality and social opportunity to innovation and economical growth. Information technology also provides a reassessment and revaluation of the boggling contributions of Black people in the development of the United States as well as global technological advancements.

Dorsum to top ⇑


In leading theories of economic growth, technology and innovation are the driving forces of long-term gains in living standards.3
Ideas—developed and commercialized—are key to innovation, and economics literature has long recognized that patents offer a valuable measure of invention. Patents were particularly important during the so-chosen Golden Age of Invention (1870 to 1940), or the second phase of the Industrial Revolution, which was characterized past an unprecedented flowering of economical growth and advances in living standards.4 Equally historians take documented, people living in the United States contributed disproportionately to this rise.

Information technology is widely believed that Black Americans did not participate in the Industrial Revolution, as suggested past several recently published papers.v Likewise, gimmicky estimates report that Black people are much less likely to become inventors than whites, Asian Americans, and immigrants.

Our estimates for total patents by Blackness people during the Golden Historic period of Invention are similar to those previously published. We utilize the same database as used in Sarada et al., only we emphasize the importance of regional differences and how legal and cultural institutions in the South were specially harmful to Black people. In this style, we build on the enquiry of economist Lisa Cook, who is the just scholar nosotros know of who has systematically analyzed how Jim Crow laws suppressed invention amid Blackness people.6 Nosotros extend her work by using a more comprehensive measure of inventors, one that links patent records to newly released digital information from the U.South. Census Bureau for relevant years during the 1870 to 1940 period.

Our conclusion supports the arguments developed in Jonathan Rothwell’s
A Republic of Equals, which concluded that educational accomplishment, innovation, and entrepreneurship were widespread in the North’s Black community in the decades betwixt the end of slavery and beginning of Jim

Back to top ⇑


This article draws on a more detailed analysis from Jonathan Rothwell and Mike Andrews, recently published as a working academic newspaper. Interested readers should consult the methods section of that paper and see the discussion for further information.8

Patent records exercise not record the race of the inventor or other demographic information, other than their name and address. The key benefits of the Sarada, Andrews, and Ziebarth database is that it links these records to demography data, unlocking valuable demographic data.

This database is extremely useful for comparing across groups of people and regions to understand where patented inventions came from and who developed the technologies. Withal, it is not a complete record of every patent adult during the menstruum. Census records are not available for nondecennial years, and while many people identified in the decennial demography would also be identified in interdecennial years, the fact that many would take inverse addresses complicates direct matching.

Even during decennial years, matching a patent record to a census record is far from guaranteed. State and local geographies often apply abbreviations or uncommon spellings. The proper name of the inventor may exist abbreviated or misspelled. Overall, our database accounts for nineteen% of domestic patents for the relevant years, with nine years of missing data during each decade.

Considering of these information gaps, we impute bodily domestic utility patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to groups identified in our database using the grouping share for the relevant year and geography. For example, we find that 2.vii% of all patents went to Black inventors, so a good approximate of the total number of inventions past Black inventors is .027 times the total number of recorded inventions of U.S. residents. In do, the share varies by year, and so nosotros assign the nearest decennial year judge to the years in between to go a more precise estimate. A rule of thumb is that the number of patents observed in our database should exist multiplied by 5.4 to account for missing matches, which we have reason to believe are largely random by group. The statistics below are careful to distinguish the estimated actual numbers from the lower numbers derived from the database.

Dorsum to top ⇑


From 1870 to 1940, Blackness people living in the North were eight times more probable to be awarded a patent than Blackness people living in the S. White people in the North were three times more likely to invent a patented engineering science than white people in the South, only they were much less likely to alive in the S than Black people.

White Americans were 4.6 times more probable to patent than Black Americans during the entire flow of 1870 to 1940, as other scholars have documented. That rate fluctuated somewhat, simply remained fairly abiding. A superficial interpretation of this result is that Black Americans faced enduring obstacles throughout the land that resulted in consistently low rates of patenting.

However, underlying this design is the fact that during this period, Blackness Americans were born and raised mostly in the U.S. South, where the institutional environs was radically different with respect to both race and invention. The share of African Americans living in the South went from 90% in 1870 to 77% in 1940. Meanwhile, simply 1-quarter (26%) of white Americans lived in the South throughout the flow. Despite the lopsided share of African Americans living in the South, northern African Americans filed the majority of patents (58% is the average for the entire period), with the Due north’s patenting share reaching 71% by 1940. Almost patents filed by white Americans also came from northern residents (90%), reflecting regional differences in pedagogy and industrial concentrations.


The data suggests these regional institutional differences explain quite a lot. Across the menstruum, Black people living in northern U.S. states were eight times more likely to patent than Black people living in southern states (Figure 1). The regional gap for white inventors is also large, in that northern white people were 3 times more probable to patent than their southern counterparts—but that is just i-3rd every bit strong as the effect on Blackness invention. A simple interpretation of these facts is that poor social and economic resources (eastward.g., lack of instruction, inquiry and development, and industry) limited invention in the South by a factor of iii, whereas systemic racism had an even larger upshot—admitting only on the Black population. Black people in the Due north were nigh as likely to file a patent as white people in the N, and they were far more likely to patent than white people in the South.

To put in perspective the extraordinary number of patents given to Blackness people in the Northward in the decades after the terminate of slavery, consider that patenting in northern Black communities was equal to white Americans nationally. During this era, the United States was arguably the near inventive place on Earth at what was arguably the well-nigh inventive era in world history. This puts northern Black people in the global vanguard of invention in the late 19th and early 20th century.

We also considered what these patenting rates look like past region of nascence. This distinction is of import in analyzing the causes of different patenting rates past region. A state could be better at providing Black people learning opportunities, practice opportunities, or both. A state that provides only practice opportunities may provide no advantages to people born there, but may exist a welcoming destination to highly skilled migrants.

The patenting rates by region of nascency are largely consistent with patenting by region of residence. For both races, patenting rates are slightly college by region of residence, consistent with there beingness both learning and practise opportunity effects in northern states. Whether using state of birth or residence, the broad regional distinctions are still axiomatic, and the data is clear that northern Black patenting rates were loftier by either definition.

In the North, Black people’s share of patents equaled their share of population.
Black people accounted for one.half dozen% of the N’s population and 1.6% of patents from 1870 to 1940. The rate of patenting per capita among northern Black and white residents was extremely loftier (0.31 per 1,000 residents for Black people and 0.39 for white people). Both of these rates exceed the U.S. rate of invention for virtually of the country’s history, and approach the highest rates observed around the world today at the country level.nine

On average, Black patenting rates are lower than white patenting rates in the aforementioned country, but at that place are several notable exceptions (Table 2). In Washington, Maine, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, both patenting by residents and patenting by those born in the state are college for Black people than white people. In Wisconsin, Blackness patenting rates are roughly the same as white rates for residents, merely Black patenting is much higher by birth—suggesting that Wisconsin provided especially advantageous learning opportunities. In New York, Michigan, and Ohio, patenting rates were substantially the same between Black and white people, whether by residence or birth.

In southern states, patenting is almost uniformly lower for white and Blackness people, simply some of the within-race comparisons are instructive. In states with heavy historical slave populations—such as Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and Florida—patenting was much college for Black people who were built-in there than patenting by residence. This suggests that these states were especially bad at providing practice opportunities, but many Black people built-in at that place achieved inventive success elsewhere afterward migrating.

Table 1. Patents per 1000000 population observed in the patent database by race and state of residence and nascence, 1870 to 1940 (cumulative)

Black people White people
Country of residence State of birth State of residence State of nascency
District of Columbia 201.v 140.7 491.6 300.4
Massachusetts 188.3 120.4 222.9 179.nine
Washington 151.6 117.9 87.0 33.5
Maine 111.0 413.3 65.0 137.7
New York 100.9 96.vii 98.0 97.i
Connecticut 100.half-dozen 96.vii 293.7 223.9
Colorado seventy.1 71.iv 51.1
Delaware 74.7 63.0 174.5 114.3
Pennsylvania 67.9 49.3 52.5
California 25.6 84.9 53.7
New Jersey 57.nine 57.0 219.3 121.6
Illinois 57.2 39.0 53.iv 44.2
Maryland 50.9 51.7 133.0
Michigan 41.1 forty.7 48.0 45.5
Ohio 36.4 46.4 45.5 l.9
Wisconsin 34.8 77.4 38.half dozen 39.9
Indiana 30.iv 45.7 26.viii 36.3
Kansas 19.6 12.nine 35.6
Utah xiv.8 513.1 84.9 58.2
Minnesota 14.7 10.1 28.9 31.9
Missouri 13.2 xiii.five 24.v 29.2
Iowa 9.5 102.9 16.2 28.v
Oregon 7.v 16.1 81.3 49.0
Tennessee 6.5 11.viii 11.8 14.2
Florida 6.iii viii.3 29.5 23.3
Louisiana vi.1 5.viii 25.9 23.vii
Oklahoma 5.8 9.7 17.ane eleven.6
Kentucky 4.5 9.2 10.iv 19.0
Alabama 2.8 5.3 10.3 13.2
Texas one.9 2.four 7.6 nine.4
Southward Carolina one.6 half-dozen.1 15.four 21.0
Mississippi 1.4 iv.8 8.nine 11.4
Georgia 1.0 4.vii 7.6 13.9
Arkansas 1.0 ii.4 6.1 7.viii
North Carolina 0.iv 5.two 7.0 12.ix
New Hampshire 0.0 501.four 78.4 184.ix
Vermont 0.0 158.2 88.5 147.4
Nebraska 0.0 25.9 12.2 26.four
Idaho 0.0 0.0 42.1 19.ix
North Dakota 0.0 0.0 19.0 20.0
Arizona 0.0 0.0 34.0 44.7
South Dakota 0.0 0.0 xv.iii 23.8
Wyoming 0.0 22.ix 43.8 47.ane
New Mexico 0.0 0.0 19.6 14.2
Nevada 0.0 0.0 73.5 79.half dozen
Westward Virginia 0.0 7.viii 1.1 13.1
Hawaii 0.0 0.0 xviii.3 23.8
Montana 0.0 0.0 0.0 36.7
Rhode Island 0.0 twoscore.7 0.0 65.1
Virginia 0.0 20.ix 0.0 31.5
Alaska 0.0 0.0 0.0 1097.vii

To put these numbers in perspective, nosotros can compare them to contemporary patent rates in America’s well-nigh prolific innovation hubs. To do then, we multiple by 5.4 to account for missing records. From 2007 to 2011, there were 296 patents granted per meg residents of U.South. metropolitan areas, according to previous Brookings research.10
From 1870 to 1940, adjusted Black patenting rates exceeded 300 per million in 12 states.

Compared to other states and territories, Black residents of Washington, D.C. had the highest rate of patenting during this golden age, with 1,088 patents per 1000000 Blackness residents, later on adjusting for missing data. This charge per unit is roughly equal to contemporary San Francisco and Seattle, though somewhat lower than contemporary San Jose, Calif. In recent years (2007 to 2011), only 16 metropolitan areas exceeded the charge per unit of patenting reached by Blackness residents in Washington, D.C. from 1870 to 1940.

Other Brookings research allows us to put this in an international perspective. We gauge that northern Blackness Americans had a rate of 300 patents per million residents, after adjusting for missing records. Japan was the merely land in the world to patent at a higher rate from 2010 to 2012.11

With 50,000 total patents, Black people accounted for more than inventions during this period than immigrants from every country except England and Germany.
In our database, 87% of inventions were traced to people born in the United States, and 2.vii% were invented by Black Americans—a larger share than nearly every immigrant group. After accounting for patents during nondecennial years, we estimate that Blackness people deemed for just under fifty,000 total patents during this period.

It is widely known that immigrants to the The states contributed unduly to entrepreneurship and innovation, and go along to do so today. Yet it is also the case that during the Golden Age of Invention, well-nigh inventions (87%) came from people born in the United States. Blackness people were among the most important contributors to this, bookkeeping for more patents than immigrants from any land except Deutschland and England.

Table 2

To understand the rate of patenting by northern Black Americans during this menstruum, we compare it to the average charge per unit of patenting throughout U.S. history. A few observations stand up out (Figure 2).

First, the Gilded Age truly was remarkable for its rate of innovation. No other time in the 19th or 20th century saw rates of patenting matched by the period from 1870 to 1940. In the late 20th and early 21st century, the introduction of software patents has contributed to the increase in patenting, along with much higher rates of postsecondary instruction and enquiry and development spending per capita.12 2nd, Black patenting past northern residents during this period should exist considered extremely high relative to the national rate at any fourth dimension in U.S. history. Simply put, from the period afterwards the cease of the Civil War to showtime of World War Two, northern Black people were among the most inventive people in globe history.

Figure 2

Dorsum to top ⇑


Possibly the earliest and almost ambitious endeavour to mensurate the contribution of Black people to U.S. invention was made by Henry Baker, who worked at the U.S. Patent Role. In 1913, he surveyed approximately viii,000 registered patent attorneys, constitute 1,200 inventions attributed to people of African American beginnings, and was able to confirm 800 of them.13 He emphasized that this was a large undercount, as attorneys reported declining to remember the names or inventions of some of their Black clients. Our database suggests that Black people were producing roughly 800 patents per yr during the decade of Baker’s piece of work.

“Nosotros can never know the whole story,” Baker wrote in a 1913 pamphlet. “But we know enough to feel sure that if others knew the story even as we ourselves know it, it would present us in a somewhat different calorie-free to the judgment of our fellow men, and, perhaps, make for us a position of new importance in the industrial activities of our state.”

In this spirit, we follow Baker’southward lead and describe some of the Black inventors who shaped the history of technology:

Lewis Latimer was born in Massachusetts in 1848 to escaped former slaves. He became a leading electronics engineer, making technical drawings for Alexander Graham Bell, contributing to the development of telephones, and later working for Thomas Edison on improvements to lighting.14

Elijah McCoy was also the son of African American parents who escaped slavery. He was born in Canada but raised in Michigan, before being sent to study in Scotland at age 15. McCoy was denied work as an engineer based on his race, and had to settle for work as a railway technician. In that context, he developed and patented an automated arrangement for cycle lubrication, greatly improving the efficiency of railroad train travel. He went on to take a lengthy career as an inventor.xv

Granville Wood was some other influential Blackness inventor of the era, born in Ohio in 1856. He made cardinal innovations to railways, specially in the class of advice systems and the distribution of electricity to the rails cars.xvi

Sarah Boone invented the ironing board, winning a patent in 1892. She was raised in New Haven, Conn. by African American parents who escaped from slavery in Due north Carolina through the Hole-and-corner Railroad.17

Despite living and working in the Due north, these and other Black inventors, entrepreneurs, and workers of all kinds faced discrimination and professional and fiscal barriers that white people did non.18 Obtaining a patent was more hard for Black people, because it oft involved working with a white lawyer who may exist tempted to engage in unfair dealings. These obstacles, no doubt, suppressed the wealth, fame, and influence of Black inventors—and yet, many succeeded in making of import contributions to American technological and economic development. What is striking is that even while lacking complete liberty, Black people in the Northward acquired and good cutting-edge creativity, scientific discipline, and technical skills at very high rates for a substantial period of U.Due south. history.

Several important institutions inverse in the North that help explain why opportunities for Blackness advancement seem to take stalled and even reversed after the Golden Historic period of Invention. The 1920s saw the nascence of zoning laws and other government-backed institutions that closed off real estate markets to Black people, leading to rapid increases in racial segregation which did not reach their peak until the 1970s.19
With racial segregation made either an explicit goal or viewed as an unavoidable side upshot, governments around the land fostered segregation and corralled Black people into areas that were targeted for disinvestment in important public resources, including education.20
Meanwhile, powerful professional person associations—including the American Bar Association and American Medical Association—gained prominence in the early on 20th century and used their emerging ability, in part, to officially discriminate against Blackness people for decades.

Throughout northern states, the Golden Age of Invention in America provided a tantalizing glimpse into what Black people could reach if given robust opportunities to larn and practice in highly skilled fields. These accomplishments negated the assumption—in one case held by many in America—that Black people cannot thrive merely besides as any other grouping at the most challenging cognitive activities. National leaders should apply this historical lesson to today’southward institutional landscape, and seek out and eliminate barriers to the full participation of Black people in American life.

Back to peak ⇑

Match the Innovators With the Effects of Their Contributions