By Karen Stokes
Inventions from African Americans inventors were on display at the Milwaukee County Courthouse to celebrate Women’s History Month on March 24, 2016.
The free event, open to the public, was hosted by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. Also in attendance were District Attorney John Chisholm, Nate Holden of the Office of African American Affairs, Nicole Johnson of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, Jill North Destination Imagination and founder of the Black Inventors Gallery, Peggy J. Hardy.
Peggy J Hardy had a vision. In 2006 after reading a newspaper story about African American inventors, she began her collection of artifacts and founded the groundbreaking Black Inventors Gallery.
Hardy, 71, is described by people who know her well as a determined woman who knows how to get things done.
“Peggy Hardy can talk to any person and go to any office because she believes in what she is doing wholeheartedly,” said Synovia Youngblood, executive director of the gallery.
The mission of the Black Inventors Gallery is to collect preserve and increase the awareness of African American inventors, their inventions and the contributions they have made through structured educational programming and other public programs.
“If you look up African American women inventors, you will find six pages of inventions created by African American women,” said Chisholm. “Their inventions changed the way we live.”
The first African American woman to receive a patent was Judy W. Reed. In January 1884, Reed received a patent for her dough kneader and roller. The device was an improved design on existing dough kneaders. Since women sometimes used their first and middle initials when signing documents, often to disguise their gender and patent applications did not require the applicant to indicate his or her race. It was unknown if there are earlier African American women inventors prior to Reed, according to blackpast.org.
Slaves were prohibited from receiving patents on their inventions. Although free black inventors were legally able to receive patents, most did not. Some feared that recognition and most likely the prejudice that would come with it would destroy their livelihoods.
The Black Inventors Gallery features hundreds of inventions, including the lunch pail invented by James Robinson in 1887, the golf tee invented by T. Grant in 1899, the gas mask invented by Garrett Morgan in 1914, the typewriter invented by Burridge & Marshman in 1885, the tricycle invented by M.A. Cherry in 1886 and the phone transmitter invented by Granville T. Woods in 1884.
The “Gallery on the Go” has been displayed at various locations throughout the city of Milwaukee, including a Bucks game at the Bradley Center, Milwaukee City Hall, Milwaukee County Zoo, churches, community organizations and a number of high schools and elementary schools.
Strategic partners for the event are Betty Brinn Children’s Museum Be-A-Maker Program, Milwaukee Bucks, Destination Imagination, Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, Safe Haven Family Network and IOU Sports STEM programs for girls.
The gallery will be permanently housed at 3201 N. 40th Street in the Sherman Park area. The new venue will broaden perspectives and generate knowledge about African American inventors.