Maryland State Archives:
The Study of the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland

Learning from The Past

The many faces of great African Americans inventors. Where would we be if it wasn’t for these inventors?

VII. Benjamin Bradley (steam engines for warships)

Benjamin Bradley was born a slave in Maryland around 1830. At the time, it was against the law to teach a slave to read or write. It’s speculated that Bradley received teaching from his master’s or employer’s children. As a teenager Bradley was put to work in a printing office. At the age of 16, he -built a working steam engine from pieces of scrap metal. With a piece of gun-barrel, some pewter, a couple of pieces of round steel, and some materials, he constructed a working model of a steam engine. Others were so impressed with Bradley's mechanical and mathematical skills that he was given a job that made better use of his talents. His new job was as an assistant in the science department at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There, Bradley set up and helped conduct experiments with chemical gases. Professors at the Naval Academy were impressed with Bradley that he was paid for his work, but because he was a slave, the money went to his master, but his master allowed Bradley to keep a small amount— about five dollars a month—for himself.

Improved versions of the steam powered warships where in use throughout the 19th century.

How many of you guys show of hands have been on a vacation or trip train, well during this time this trains were the only modes of transportation besides bikes, carriages. With the help of McCoy’s invention transportation was made available at the readily or steady pace.


I. Elijah McCoy (May1843- Oct.1929)

Elijah was born in Ontario, Canada in 1843, the son of slaves who had fled from Kentucky to Canada because slavery had been abolished in 1833. At the age of 16, he traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland, to serve an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering. In Edinburgh, Elijah received the credentials of a master mechanic and engineer. Following the Civil War, the McCoy’s returned to the United States and settled in Michigan. The only job available to him was that of a locomotive fireman/oilman for the Michigan Central Railroad.


Lubricator system for steam engines





Elijah made important contributions to the design of railroad locomotives after the Civil War. These were demanding indeed, for they operated at high temperatures and pressures. He kept pace with the progress of locomotive design, devising new lubricating systems that served the steam engines of the early twentieth century.

Of historical note, the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad Company was chartered by the General Assembly in 1827 to construct a transportation link to the west, establishing the nation's first long-distance railway.


Picture of Train


II. Madam CJ Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) 1867-1919

Sarah Breedlove was born on December 23, 1867 on a Delta, Louisiana plantation. The daughter of former slaves, who was orphaned at the age of seven. Walker and her older sister survived by working in the cotton fields of Delta and Vicksburg, Mississippi. She married at age fourteen and her only daughter was born in 1885. After her husband's death two years later, she traveled to St. Louis to join her four brothers who had established themselves as barbers. Working as a laundrywoman, she managed to save enough money to educate her daughter, and became involved in activities with the National Association of Colored Women. In 1905, Sarah became a sales agent for Malone and moved to Denver where she married Charles Joseph Walker officially changing her name to Madame CJ Walker.


Developed hair treatments for conditioning hair




By early 1910, she had settled in Indianapolis, then the nation's largest inland manufacturing center, where she built a factory Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company used to developing her products, hair and manicure salon and another training school.


III. Garrett A. Morgan (1877- 7/26/1963)

Garrett Morgan was born on March 4, 1877 in Paris, Kentucky to Sydney and Elizabeth Morgan. In 1895, Morgan moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he went to work as a sewing machine repair man for a clothing manufacturer. News of his proficiency for fixing things and experimenting traveled fast and led to numerous job offers from various manufacturing firms in the Cleveland area.


Gas mask patent





Nonetheless, with the outbreak of World War I and the use of poisonous gases, Morgan's Safety Hood, now known as the Gas Mask was utilized by the United States Army during WWI and saved the lives of thousands of soldiers.


Gas mask


Traffic Signal

The world’s first traffic light came into being before the automobile was in use, and traffic consisted only of pedestrians, buggies, and wagons.  Installed at an intersection in London in 1868, it was a revolving lantern with red and green signals. The lantern, illuminated by gas, was turned by means of a lever at its base so that the appropriate light faced traffic.  On January 2, 1869, this crude oil traffic light exploded, injuring the policeman who was operating it, then in 1920 Morgan comes along and improves it.





Satisfied with his efforts, Morgan sold the rights to his device to the General Electric Company for the astounding sum of $40,000.00 which has become the standard across the country. With the use of Morgan’s traffic lights there are fewer accidents.


V. Joseph Winters patent May 7, 1878

Fire trucks would not be the same without the crucial piece of equipment, the ladder.

In the cities, people were making buildings taller and taller. Streets were getting narrow as they became crowded. The ladders that firemen used had to be long and heavy in order to reach the high floors in the tall buildings that’s when Joseph Winters invented a wagon mounted fire escape ladder.






VI. Charles Drew   The Blood Bank


Charles Drew was born on June 3, 1904 in Washington, D.C., the son of Richard and Nora Drew and eldest of five children. As a youngster he was an award winning athlete at Dunbar High School. He participated in football, baseball, basketball and track and field. Charles' early interests were in education, particularly in medicine, after graduating from Dunbar in 1922, he went on to attend Amherst College in Massachusetts. After graduation from Amherst, Drew took on a position as a biology teacher at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland and also served as the school's Athletic Director. In 1928, Charles decided to pursue his interest in medicine and enrolled at McGill University in Montreal, Canada finishing 2nd out of 127 students, specializing in physiological anatomy.

·        Charles Drew researched blood plasma and transfusions in New York City. It was during his work at Columbia University where he made his discoveries relating to the preservation of blood. By separating the liquid red blood cells from the near solid plasma and freezing the two separately, he found that blood could be preserved and reconstituted later.

·        Dr. Drew established the American Red Cross blood bank, of which he was the first director, and he organized the world's first blood bank drive. His official title for the blood drive was Medical Director of the first Plasma Division for Blood Transfusion, supplying blood plasma to the British during World War II.

·        Charles Drew's system for the storing of blood plasma (blood bank) revolutionized the medical profession. The British military used his process extensively during World War II, establishing mobile blood banks to aid in the treatment of wounded soldiers at the front lines. In 1941, the American Red Cross decided to set up blood donor stations to collect plasma for the U.S. armed forces.

April 1, 1950 Dr. Drew dozed off as he drove. The car ran off the road and turned over. Drew was badly injured. Newspaper accounts said that the hospital nearest the accident refused to admit Dr. Drew because of his race, and that precious time was lost in taking him farther down the road to a black hospital. By the time he arrived there, he had lost so much blood that no one could have saved his life. The man who had done more than anyone else in the world to make blood transfusions available to people in urgent situations did not have access to a blood transfusion when he needed it.

With thanks to Dr. Charles Drew and his creation of the blood bank more people are able to live longer.


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