Black Excellence: History’s Most Influential Black Tech Pioneers

Headshot painting of Inventor and Engineer Lewis Howard Latimer

As we continue to push forward, it’s important to look back and see the great shoulders we stand on. Black people have been and always will be a huge part of the tech space, thanks to our amazing contributions and inventions in the field. Black tech pioneers and inventors laid the foundation for today.

In fact, there’s a good chance that the technology shaping your life today was made, in part, by a Black inventor or Black tech pioneer. Black inventors and tech pioneers as we know them have laid the groundwork for a lot of the technology that make life easier in this century. 

Granville Woods – Inventor 

Granville Woods was known as the “Black Edison” due to his numerous contributions to modern day tech. His most well-known invention was the multiplex telegraph, a device that allowed voice communication over telegraph wires, setting the groundwork for modern day phone technologies! His invention helped to speed up communication on train lines, preventing accidents. He also invented the “troller” (a system that let street cars get power from overhead wires), improved phone transmitters, and invented various railway devices.  Woods was a Black tech pioneer and inventor ahead of his time.

Lewis Howard Latimer – Inventor, Engineer

Lewis Howard Latimer was both an inventor and an accomplished engineer. He infamously worked closely with both Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, directly involved with their famous inventions. His work contributed to the development of the modern day telephone, as well as modern day incandescent lighting. Next time you turn on the light, say thanks to Lewis!

Valerie Thomas – NASA Scientist and Inventor 

Valerie Thomas is a famous African American scientist and inventor, best known for technologies she invented that are used by NASA to this day. When she attended Morgan State University in the 60s, she was one of two women to major in physics. She went on to be hired by NASA, where she developed the image-processing technologies utilized by Landstat, the first NASA satellite that could send images back to earth from space. She also worked to develop computer programs that were widely used in NASA’s study of space. 

Dr. Philip Emeagwali – Inventor and Scientist

Anyone who uses a computer should be grateful for the work of Dr. Philip Emeagwali. Hailing from Nigeria, he credits his study of nature, specifically bees, as the inspiration for the invention of the world’s fastest supercomputer. He created a computer system that utilized 65,000 processors, able to perform 3.1 billion calculations per second in 1989. His technological inventions in computing continue to impact the world today.

Dr. Shirley Jackson – Physicist, Inventor 

Dr. Shirley Jackson is a woman who broke through many barriers. She was the first African-
American woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear physics at MIT in 1973. Her education gave her the background that led to some amazing inventions in the tech world. She is credited with inventing the touch-tone telephone, the portable fax, fibre-optic cells, solar cells, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting. Her work has created big moves in the telecommunications field, and she paved pathways for future Black women in technology.

Garret Morgan, Inventor

Garrett Morgan was an inventor behind many inventions, big and small! One of his most well-known inventions was the formation of the modern-day traffic light. After witnessing carriage accidents, Garrett decided to work on lights that included a warning light between the stop and go lights, so drivers knew they would need to slow down before the final stop signal. This three-light system is still used around the globe today! His other inventions include the early invention of gas masks, hair-straightening products, and improvements to sewing machines. 

Mark Dean, Inventor, Engineer

Mark Dean is an inventor who has created some crucial pieces of modern-day tech. With a background in engineering and computer science, Mark has worked on a ton of landmark pieces of tech for IBM, the most famous of which is the first gigahertz chip, and the colour monitor for PCs. The computer age wouldn’t be the same without his incredible work!

For more articles on Black excellence and the trailblazing accomplishments of Black professionals in history, check out these books.