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Black Inventions We’d Be Completely Lost Without

If your list of Black inventors begins and ends with George Washington Carver, you have so much more to learn. Black inventors and their inventions have been changing the world for the better for hundreds of years. Believe it or not, you’ve no doubt used tons of Black inventions over the course of your life, many of which you may not have even known were created by African American innovators. For instance did you know that the Super Soaker, refrigerated trucks, and pencil sharpeners where all Black inventions?

We’ve gathered up a collection of brilliant inventions you probably use in your every day life, all of which were invented by Black people. Whether you realize it or not, every time you sit down to eat a bag of potato chips or play video games at home, you have industrious African Americans to thank. Whether it’s world-changing inventions like the concept of a blood bank, or smaller but no less valuable objects like the dust pan or golf tee, check out these modern day objects that were created by Black inventors. Vote up the ones you’d be lost without.

#1 The Modern Refridgerator

Prior to 1870, the closest thing they had to a refrigerator was a huge container you could put food in and surround with ice. Needless to say, food didn't last very long inside such contraptions, which is why Thomas Elkins decided to shake things up a bit. Elkins developed a system that used metal cooling coils to bring the temperature of a container down to freezing temperature, allowing it to keep perishables fresh without having to worry about huge chunks of melting ice.

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#2 Beer Kegs

Richard Spikes is one of those people that history has never given the props he deserves. Not only did he invent the beer keg tap in 1910, he went on to develop countless other inventions and innovations.   

Over the course of his lifetime, Spikes also invented: the railroad semaphore (1906), the automatic car washer (1913), automobile directional signals or blinker lights (1913), the continuous contact trolley pole (1919), the automatic gear shift (1932), transmission and shifting thereof (1933), the automatic shoe shine chair (1939), the multiple barrel machine gun (1940), the horizontally swinging barber chair (1950), the automatic safety brake (1962), and more. 

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#3 Carbon Filament Light Bulbs

Though the light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison, it may not have become a staple in homes around the world if it weren't for an inventor named Lewis Latimer. Edison invented the electric bulb, but his prototype didn't burn long enough to be of practical use. In 1881, however, Latimer discovered a way to use a carbon filament to produce a much longer lasting light bulb. It was also much more practical and way cheaper than Edison's original model. Latimer went on to work with Alexander Graham Bell to help draft the concept of the first telephone in 1876.

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#4 The Protective Public Mailbox

Before 1891, if you dropped a letter or package into a public mailbox, all you could do was cross your fingers and pray it got to its destination unscathed. Not only were thieves a common concern for the patrons of semi-open mailboxes, but weather as well. A whole bag of letters could be destroyed by one good rain or snow. It was a man by the name of Philip B. Downing who invented a public mailbox design that featured both an outer and inner safety door, ensuring that when a letter or package went in, it would be safe until it was  picked up by the mailman. Downing's design was the precursor for the public mailboxes we have today.

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#5 Blood Banks

If you're ever in a critical accident and need a blood donation, you have a doctor named Charles Richard Drew to thank for the life-saving blood you'll be receiving at the hosptal. Drew went to Columbia University in 1938 to study for his doctorate. While he was there, he discovered a method of separating blood cells from plasma and storing them. This allowed blood to be kept for much longer than a week, which had previously been the maximum. He revealed his findings in a paper that led to modern blood banks around the world. 

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#6 The Modern Home Video Gaming Console

If you love to play on your Playstation, Xbox, or Wii, then give it up for a guy by the name of Gerald A. Lawson. He created the first home video gaming system with interchangeable cartridges, offering players the chance to play all of their favorite games from the comfort of their own houses.

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#7 Potato Chips

The story of the potato chip started back in 1853 when a man named George Crum was working as a chef in Saratoga Springs, NY. Frustrated that an order of fries was sent back to the kitchen for being too thick, Crum decided to take revenge on his customer by chopping pieces of potato as thinly as he could, cooking them until they were burned to a crisp, and promptly returning them to the complainer. Much to his dismay, the customer absolutely loved the chips and they quickly became one of the most popular items on the menu.

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#8 Refrigerated Trucks

A man by the name of  Frederick M. Jones may or may not have realized he was changing the eating habits of Americans forever when he invented mobile refrigeration. The system allowed food trucks to keep meat and other perishables frozen while transporting them long distances. His company, Thermo King, quickly became a huge manufacturer of refrigerated transportation.

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#9 The Gas Mask and Traffic Signals

Though Garrett A Morgan had only a sixth grade education, the son of freed slaves managed to turn himself into a businessman. He owned a repair shop, clothing business, cosmetics line, and even a Black newspaper. On top of that, he developed what he called the "safety hood," after seeing how many firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty. He even debuted it himself in 1916 by using it to save the lives of workers trapped in a tunnel explosion. The "hood" became a sensation and led to what we now know as the gas mask. But did he stop there? No way. He also patented the mechanical traffic light in 1923, which he then sold to General Electric.  

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#10 The Pencil Sharpener

Can you imagine sitting in class during the second grade and having to stop halfway through writing the alphabet to pull out your knife and whittle down your pencil? In 1897, a guy named John Love definitely could. Not content with having to carve his own pencil every time he sat down to write a letter, he invented the pencil sharpener that allowed users to turn a simple crank until the end of their pencil formed a sharp point.

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#11 The Super Soaker

Lonnie Johnson is the man behind all of your best summer memories. The Air Force vet who worked on the stealth bomber program, the Galileo mission to Jupiter, and the Cassini mission to Saturn, invented everyone's favorite water gun while working on an environmentally friendly heating pump. 

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#12 Street Sweepers

These days it's hard to imagine having to sweep up every single piece of litter and debris on the street by hand, but prior to 1896, that's exactly how things worked. Everything changed when Charles Brooks invented a truck with huge brushes that could cover much larger areas of the road in a much shorter time. These days, we know it as the street sweeper. 

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#13 Fountain Pens

Though almost all of us carry around pens in our backpacks or purses these days, prior to 1890, things weren't so simple. Back then, you not only had to carry around a pen, but also a bottle of ink to dip it in. Luckily an inventor named William Purvis came up with an idea for a pen with the ink stored inside. Today we know it as the fountain pen.   

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#14 The Modern Day Golf Tee

If you think golf is hard now, imagine how hard it must've been without a tee! In 1899, a guy named George F. Grant was fed up with trying to tee off without destroying grass, having the ball roll away, or accidentally hitting a passer-by with a desperate drive.  That's when he invented the small but indispensable golf tee, which kept the ball secure while raising it high enough for players to avoid taking out a huge patch of grass every time they swung.

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#15 Dust Pans

It may not seem like much, but try sweeping up a spill without a dustpan and you'll quickly realize exactly how important of an invention it was. Before Lloyd Ray patented the idea in 1897, anyone with a room to sweep was pretty much stuck either pushing their dust outside or trying to pick it up with their hands. 

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