Inventions by POC That Changed Our Lives

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The movement for Black Lives Matter (BLM) continues throughout the United States with protestors fighting for the justice of Black lives against police brutality. In the discussion of BLM, VALLEY would like to appreciate several of the African American inventors that contributed to our everyday society. 

1. Home Security System by Marie Van Brittan Brown (1966) 
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Brown was a nurse who lived in the high-crime rate city of Queens, New York. She felt unsafe being home alone when her husband traveled on business trips so instead of relying on police, she created her own security. Her invention originally started by creating four holes in her front door at varying heights that held camera lenses.

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The image of the lenses appeared on a television monitor present in another room, allowing Brown to have a full view of her visitors. Along with this feature, Brown had also installed a panic button that would alert the authorities if she was in danger. Brown later improved her home security system by including two-way microphones that made it possible to communicate with her visitors and a remote switch to lock and unlock the door from a distance.  

2. Three- Light Traffic Light by Garrett Morgan (1923)
Garrett Morgan
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One of the first things discussed in the driver’s manual is the three-light traffic light. This invention plays such an important role, most know the meaning of this object before being able to drive.

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Morgan acquired the idea of the three-light traffic light after he witnessed an accident at an intersection located in Ohio. By introducing the yield component to the present traffic light at the time, Morgan was able to reduce the rate of accidents caused by traffic lights.

Due to Morgan having many successful inventions, including the improved sewing machine and the gas mask, he became the first African American to own the car in Cleveland, Ohio. Along with his inventions, he also owned a sewing repair business and a newspaper company. Many were impressed by Morgan due to only having an elementary education and being the son of a slave.  

3. Peanut Products by George Washington Carver (1880) 
George Washington Carver
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Carver often gets mistaken for being the inventor of peanut butter, but this isn’t quite the case. Carver was the inventor of over 300 peanut-based products and not all of them were for the purpose of snacking. Upon receiving his master’s in agriculture at Iowa State University, Carver accepted a job with Booker T. Washington to run the agricultural department of Tuskegee Institute. During his time at Tuskegee Institute, Carver undertook research that would contribute greatly to farming.

He discovered that cotton had been ruining the soil for healthy growth and found the solution was to grow peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes to restore the nutrients of the soil. Farmers would rotate the crops between cotton and peanuts every couple of years, which left them with a large abundance of the tasty ingredient. Carver found endless solutions for the use of peanuts, which led him to be later known as “The Peanut Man.”

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Some of his top peanut-based products were milk, seed oil, medicines, wood stain, paper, soap, and much more. Carver was not only known for his success with peanuts, but in the classroom being the first African American to graduate from Iowa State University after being denied access to the college of his choice due to his skin color.  

4. Mailbox by Philip B. Downing (1891)
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It would be difficult to picture a world without not just getting junk mail in our email, but our mailbox. How else would insurance and bank companies and stores bombard us with subscription and promotions? You can say a big “thank you” to Downing for that. 

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But we should also appreciate his strong influence on the mailing industry and the convenience of having a mailbox, letterbox and envelope moistener. Before Downing’s inventions, citizens had to go to their local posts office to send and obtain their mail. Imagine this during winter in State College, no thank you. Downing designed the mailbox and letterbox to have a solid structure that could withstand any weather. I guess you could say the junk mail is worth it. Downing also invented the lever to switch railroad tracks, owned his own oyster house and was a founder of the United Anti-Slavery Society of the City of New York. 

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