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Black History Month: African American Inventors You Should Know

It’s Black History Month – a time to reflect and pay tribute to famous African Americans who were instrumental in bringing about positive changes in history. In their honor, we’re highlighting several African American pioneers in science and technology whose inventions have greatly impacted society.

Marie Van Brittan Brown and Albert Brown: Inventors of the Home Security System

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, a home is invaded an average of every 13 seconds in the United States, resulting in about 2.5 billion break-ins each year. However, technology can help decrease the chances of you becoming one of these statistics. Studies conducted by the FBI have found that 1 in 3 homes without a security system will fall victim to a burglary, compared to 1 in 250 homes that do have a security system.

Marie Van Brittan Brown and her husband, Albert Brown, understood the importance of keeping a home safe. They invented the first home surveillance system in 1966, which was later patented in 1969. Their invention enabled recordings from a closed-circuit television camera to be displayed in real time on a monitor, allowing homeowners to keep an eye on what would otherwise be out of sight. This system was the forerunner to the modern home surveillance systems.

Modern home surveillance systems not only help deter burglars, but can allow you to see a burglar entering your home and provide you time to get your family out safely and alert the police. These systems also provide video evidence if a crime is committed. This recorded evidence can be helpful when filing a police report.
Additionally, installing a home surveillance system can help you save on your homeowners insurance. Taking this action to decrease your risk of being the victim of a burglary also means you’re reducing the risk that you’ll file a claim, making you a more ideal candidate to insure. Because you’re less risky, your provider may award you discounts.

Garrett Morgan: Inventor of the Yellow Traffic Light

In a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 2007–2011, an average of 751 people die each year in the United States from collisions involving running red lights. This number is steep, but would likely be even higher if not for the modern traffic management system in the United States.

Garrett Morgan, “The Man Who Stopped Traffic,” is credited with coining the first three-position traffic signal. The inventor was inspired to create this traffic control device after witnessing a fatal automobile collision. Morgan dedicated his time and energy into coming up with a solution that would decrease the likelihood of wrecks of that magnitude. Although this was not the original traffic signal, Morgan’s invention added a new caution position to the traffic light, patented in 1923, which we now recognize as the yellow light.

Yellow traffic lights, or warning lights, are designed to optimize safety and traffic flow and typically last an average of three to six seconds before turning red. This signal alerts drivers that the light will be turning red momentarily, giving them time to safely stop. Morgan’s invention has greatly contributed to safer roadways in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the yellow traffic light, when coupled with red-light safety cameras, can effectively minimize the annual occurrence of collisions due to motorists running red lights by 5.6%.

Though the yellow light has made driving safer, wrecks from motorists running red lights still occur daily. Your best bet to avoid being involved in this type of collision is to be a defensive driver. And if you take a defensive driving course, you could save on your auto insurance payments.

Otis Boykin: Inventor of the Pacemaker Control Unit

Heart disease causes an average of 610,000 deaths each year in the United States. Although it remains the leading cause of death in both men and women, heart complications are much more manageable thanks to modern medical technology. After data from more than 1,500 heart failure patients was analyzed, a team at the John Hopkins Medical Institute found that pacemakers could reduce mortality from heart failure by 51%.

African-American inventor Otis Boykin greatly improved the pacemaker of his time, creating a control unit for the device in the 1960s. This invention helped to accurately direct information sent from the computing system to the wiring within the pacemaker, making it more precisely regulated and functional. Boykin’s invention paved the way for the creation of the modern pacemaker, a battery-powered device implanted in the body that uses electronic pulses to stimulate the heartbeat.

According to research conducted by cardiologist Dr. Erik O. Udo, pacemakers can increase life expectancy in individuals with heart conditions up to 93%. Furthermore, this device could make it easier for patients to avoid high life insurance premiums by showing a history of improving health.

African American inventors: changing lives, one device at a time.

Thanks to these African American inventors and their creations, the standard of living has dramatically improved for millions, affording users greater peace of mind within the home, increased safety on the road and improved manageability of health conditions.

Although these pioneers are no longer with us, they have left a lasting impact on our community.