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Negro History Month: Negro Inventors Who Changed The World

Lionel Sneed Ministries

Article by Kristin Fawcett of “Mental Floss”


1. THOMAS L. JENNINGS

t-jenningsThomas L. Jennings (1791-1859) was the first African American person to receive a patent in the U.S., paving the way for future inventors of color to gain exclusive rights to their inventions. Born in 1791, Jennings lived and worked in New York City as a tailor and dry cleaner. He invented an early method of dry cleaning called “dry scouring,” and patented it in 1821—four years before Paris tailor Jean Baptiste Jolly refined his own chemical technique and established what many people claim was history’s first dry cleaning business.

People objected to an African American citizen receiving a patent, but Jennings had a loophole: He was a free man. At the time, U.S. patent laws said that the “[slavemaster] is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual”—meaning slaves couldn’t legally own…

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