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Monitor Quiz: 19th-Century African-American Ingenuity

Eighteen sixty-five saw the end of the American Civil War. Later that year, slavery was abolished with passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The 14th Amendment (1868) granted citizenship to black Americans and established protections for their rights.

A little-known benefit of these amendments was the right extended to African-Americans to patent their own inventions. Until that point, their creativity and ingenuity had largely gone unrecognized - not only in the public mind, but also legally and financially.

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Do any of these inventions ring a bell?

1. Around 1830, a slave, Jo Anderson, developed the idea for this invention. But it was another man who received the credit, the patent, and the resulting monetary success. Cyrus McCormick did give some credit to Mr. Anderson for the idea, but nonetheless filed a patent for a horsepowered version of this automated machine in 1834. He continued to revise its design until 1855, continuing production in his own factories throughout his lifetime.

2. This invention is "the real McCoy," as well as the origin of the expression. In 1872, Elijah McCoy patented this gizmo, which allowed machines to run for longer periods. The usefulness of this item was quickly recognized by railroad and shipping lines. Less-effective versions were manufactured by competitors, leading to the query, "Is this the real McCoy?" Mr. McCoy had 57 other patents and is also credited with inventing the lawn sprinkler.

3. Lewis Latimer, a patent illustrator, helped shed light on his own illustrations with the unique design of his invention in 1882. His work allowed for an improved and safer product, as well as reduced costs, enabling more people to enjoy something we all take for granted today.

4. In 1895, professional cook Joseph Lee found a way to reduce waste and make life easier in the kitchen. Mr. Lee's invention converted often-discarded leftovers of a certain type and made them useful in the preparation of other dishes such as puddings, dressings, cake batter, and croquettes. This machine became standard equipment in top restaurants around the world.


(1) Mechanical grain reaper; (2) The "lubrication cup," which continuously oiled machinery; (3) Carbon filaments for the electric incandescent lamp; (4) The bread-crumbing machine.

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