Wednesday, February 27, 2019

27 - Alexander Miles - Hold The Door, Please!

Alexander Miles

Alexander Miles

1838? - 1918

Who Was He?

The Brownstone Miles Built

His biography is one of a successful man doing businessman things. If this blog was about that, this would be a really long entry. It isn't, so I am going to summarize:

Alexander Miles was born someplace around 1838. Sites vary, but truthfully, this information seems to be unknown.

He was in an interracial marriage with an older woman and had one child with her and at least two stepchildren.

He was a barber.

He sold insurance to black folks who could not get it.

He was a landlord.

He was very successful.

What Did He Invent?

The story goes that he and his daughter Grace were riding in an elevator, and the doors had not been properly closed, and he felt it was quite dangerous.

In fact, elevator travel was quite dangerous. There was a system for closing the doors, but it required the person in the elevator to activate it.

Miles set out to improve the system.

What Is His Legacy?

The next time you encounter an elevator, say a thank you to Alexander Miles.

He's the reason the door closes and doesn't open again until the elevator arrives.

It doesn't open on your trip up or down either...unless it is broken, and that is not his fault!

Celebrate Black History!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

26 - Elijah McCoy - The Real One

Elijah McCoy

Elijah McCoy

1844 - 1929

Who Was He?

Elijah McCoy's parents escaped to Canada on the Underground Railroad and started a new life in freedom. Elijah was born in Colchester, Ontario

McCoy was educated in segregated schools in Colchester Township in Ontario. He had a natural aptitude for mechanical things, and he would often take things apart and then put them back together.

His parents decided he needed more education, and they saved their money to make sure he got it. At the age of 15, they sent him to Edinburgh Scotland to study mechanics as an apprentice.

After a few years, he was certified as a mechanical engineer. He did not return to America until the end of the Civil War.

He moved to Michigan and the only work he could get was on the Michigan Central Railroad.

He worked as a fireman (one who shovels coal into the engine) and an oiler. An oiler's job is to oil down the moving parts of a machine.

The locomotive had to stop frequently and the oilers would have to walk along the track and check the axels and bearings to make sure they were properly oiled. This added lots of time to train travel.

McCoy decided that there had to be a better way to handle the oiler's job.

What Did He Invent?

Automatic Lubricating Cup

Elijah's first invention was the automatic lubricating cup. It allowed trains to run for longer periods of time without maintenance.

The automatic lubricating cup dripped oil onto the moving parts of machines and could be adjusted for different needs.

After he filed his patent, railroads all over America and Europe went nuts for it.

He transformed train travel all over the world. There were other oil lubricating systems, but none worked as well as McCoy's.

McCoy spent his life tinkering with his lubricator and other inventions that pertained to lubricating systems.

For most of his life, though people knew he was an inventor and had invented useful things, they had no idea how much McCoy changed how machines worked because he did not have the capital to finance his own construction of the devices.

He sold his patents to railroads and other employers.  It wasn't until 1920 that he established his own company.

Because he sold his patents, McCoy's name is not associated with most of the systems he invented, but people certainly knew about the lubricating cup.

McCoy filed 60 patents with the patent office and many of them were used by the railroad service. 

What Is His Legacy?

McCoy's lubricating system didn't just make train travel more convenient and faster, it was used on all sorts of mechanical devices that needed lubricating. 

His real legacy, of course, was his detailed craftsmanship, and clever mind. 

Then, there is this.....

There were a number of people who realized that McCoy's lubricating cup was brilliant, and they pirated the idea without actually making the patented design. Their devices did not work as well.

So, when people bought the lubricating cups, it became important to have "The Real McCoy".

Celebrate Black History!

Monday, February 25, 2019

25 - Benjamin Bradley - Steam Engine Dominance

The USS Princeton, a Steam Powered Wooden Warship 

Benjamin Bradley

(Today is "X" so we have another truly forgotten inventor)

Maybe 1830-?

Who Was he?

Benjamin Bradley was born into enslavement in Maryland somewhere around 1830. He was a bright kid who picked up both reading and mathematics from the slaver's children.

-Some sources claim the children taught him themselves though this was considered illegal, and other sources say that he listened in while they were being tutored. I even found one reference that suggested he'd been sent to some academy or other, but that does not sound credible.

When he was a teenager, he was sent out to work (no sources I saw explain where) and while he was there, he built a working steam engine from scrap metal.

Yes, he is yet another self-taught engineer. 

His steam engine somehow brought Bradley to the attention of The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. All of the sources I found sort of fudged how this happened, so I am going to assume it is pretty lost to history as there are vague accounts of how this came about, but nothing specific.

It might have something to do with the slaver himself, but nobody has preserved that name, and I've already spent too much time looking for it.

Bradley was assigned as a teaching assistant in the science department. He was the first African American to work at the Naval Academy in a job that was not menial.

 He prepared and conducted experiments for the science classes. The instructors at the Academy were amazed that Bradley was so smart and learned so quickly. They heaped praises on him and couldn't get over how effective and capable he was at his job or anything at all they handed him. In his day, he was definitely acknowledged as a brilliant and capable man.

Benjamin soaked in all of the science, the new technology of the day, and explored the mechanics of steam engines - which was his first love.

He received a salary from the naval college, but the slaver reaped the rewards. Bradley was only able to keep five dollars a month for himself. 

What Did He Invent?

Bradley continued to experiment with steam engines and eventually used his savings to design and build the first steam engine powerful enough to move an ironclad warship with speed.

Here is a tiny DIY engine if you are interested!
He wanted to patent his invention, but the slaver claimed that anything Bradley created actually belonged to him, and he should get all of the fruits of that work.

Bradley did not patent his steam engine. The Navy, however, did buy it and install it in their warships.

There are few texts that attribute this advance in American naval power to Bradley, but he was the one who ignited it. I found this essay interesting and informative.

Bradley saved as much of his money as he could, and depending on the source you read, he either sold the first engine he created as a teenager to a naval academy student, or he was able to reap enough money from the sale of his engine to the navy to buy his freedom from the slaver.

At that point, he disappears from history. All we know is that he is reputed to have lived out the rest of his life as a free man.

Did he continue to work for the Naval Academy?

I don't know. Maybe?

We don't have any idea when he died or what else might have happened to him.

What Is His Legacy?

The USS Kearsarge 
Bradley's steam engine powered some of the American Naval War Sloops during the Civil War. One of those Sloops was called the Kearsarge.

it was fast, dangerous, and devastating. 

The prototype engine Bradley created was used continuously, being upgraded as the technology evolved, but the underpinnings of the engine itself are all down to Bradley.

The legacy of the USS Kearsarge lives on today as a steam engine powered amphibious assault ship 

Thank you, Benjamin Bradley, for creating the engines that powered our dominance on the seas for over a century. This particular vessel services the Marine Corps.

Celebrate Black History -

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Day 24 - Daniel Hale Williams - Holding A Heart In the Palm of His Hands

Daniel Hale Williams

Daniel Hale Williams

1856 - 1931

Who Was He?

Daniel Hale Williams was born in Hollidaysburg, PA. His father, who was a barber, died of tuberculosis when he was nine. His mother sent him to live with distant relatives.

Williams studied shoemaking but didn't care for it, so went back to his mother and took up barbering. 

He actually opened his own barbershop as a young man but became interested in the work of a local physician, and decided to switch careers again.

He apprenticed with Dr. Henry Palmer before going to Chicago Medical College in 1880 which today is called Northwestern University Medical School.

In 1883 he graduated from medical school and ran into one of the big problems of his day. Hospitals did not want to hire African American doctors.

He opened his own practice in Chicago, Il, and treated both black and white patients. He was well read and kept up with the medical information of the time. He was fascinated with the work of Louis Pasteur and decided he would start sterilizing all of his equipment.

What Did He Do?

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, or Dr. Dan as his patients called him, spent his life working to make the healthcare profession more accessible to black doctors and nurses as well as improving access to healthcare for people of color.

Your Pericardium
In Willaims' day, black doctors had a hard time finding positions, and black people had a hard time finding doctors. There were no hospitals in Chicago that would treat them, and there were only three black doctors in the city.

Williams opened Provident Hospital which was the very first hospital in America with an interracial staff. It treated anyone who needed care.

In September of 1891, a man was brought into Provident Hospital with a stab wound in his chest. Dr. Dan opened his chest, repaired his pericardial sac and sewed him back up.

Dr. Williams had just performed the very first successful open heart surgery. The patient survived and lived a full life.

Provident Hospital's reputation was stellar, and it attracted great doctors. Dr. Dan put in a rigorous training program for nurses. He trained both black doctors and nurses at Provident.

What Is His Legacy?

Dr. Williams worked to improve medical practices in general across the profession, access to competent medical care for all Americans while fighting for Civil Rights.

He performed the first successful open heart surgery.

He was the first black doctor to sit on the Illinois State Board of Health as well as being the first black charter member of the American College of Surgeons.

Williams was not allowed as an African American doctor to join the American Medical Association. In fact, the AMA did not admit black doctors until 1964. So, Williams and some other doctors formed the National Medical Association

The NMA was formed to allow doctors of all ethnicities to share medical knowledge and support. 

He brought Howard Universities medical programs up to date for their day and worked at Freedman's Hospital in Washington DC.

Williams worked and taught at hospitals in several states. His work covered everything from the importance of a bedside manner to the best ways to sterilize equipment.

Williams improved all aspects of the medical profession as well as opening up doors for black healthcare professionals, and black patients.

Thank you, Dr. Dan, for inching us closer to that "more perfect union" we are forever seeking as Americans.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Day 23 - Ellen Elgin - Through The Wringer

An old washtub

Ellen Elgin

1849 - 1890?

(Today is "V", so we are doing another one-shot inventor)

Who Was She?

Ellen Elgin was born in Washington, D.C. She worked as a housekeeper and also has a clerk. 

An old washboard
Housekeepers often have to do laundry. Back in the 1800s, there were very few options for washing clothes other than putting them in a washtub and scrubbing them by hand on a washboard.    

After scrubbing the laundry by hand on the washboard, it was necessary to wring the clothes out by hand and them hand them to dry.

Ellen realized that there had to be a better way to wring the water out of clothes. So, she put her mind to it and came up with something that revolutionized the very necessary act of washing clothes. 

What Did She Invent?

Ellen Elgin invented the first clothes wringer! It was two rollers and a crank. For the first time in history, once the clothes were washed, you could get most of the water out of them with little or no effort. It also cut down on the time it took to dry the clothes, and it most likely saved a generation of women from repetitive workplace injuries from all that squeezing and hand wringing! (That last bit is my own editorializing. Anyone who has ever had to wring out something bulky knows what I'm talking about)

Ellen Elgin's Device

After she invented it, Elgin worried that if people found out a black woman invented it, nobody would use it.

She sold her idea to a white person who was interested in manufacturing the device for the hefty sum of eighteen dollars.

The person Ellen sold it to made a fortune transforming how women all over the world washed laundry. 

Ellen? She made $18.00.

What Is Her Legacy?

It wasn't riches.

It wasn't recognition then or now.

Until the first electric washers hit the market, people used Ellen Elgin's wringer to get the very last scintilla of extra water out of their clothes.

We still use the wringer today for mops. 

My favorite part of her legacy has nothing to do with housework or janitorial services.

The wringer was so common and so successful, that Elgin's invention crept into common parlance. 

To this day people use the phrase - "Putting someone through the wringer" to mean Putting someone through a great deal of trouble until you've squeezed everything out of them.

So, the next time you see set up where someone is using one of those hand-wringers to get the water out of the mop, or you hear someone talk about either being put the wringer or noting someone else was put through the wringer, it is all due to Ellen Elgin.

She revolutionized an industry and placed a permanent marker in our language.

Thank you, Ellen Elgin!

Celebrate Black History!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Day 22 - Alfred L. Cralle - Next Time You Have Ice Cream....

Alfred L. Cralle

1866 - 1920

(Today is supposed to be U, but I couldn't find a good one, so I'm going to go with a one-shot inventor. I'm going to be doing that quite a bit here at the end of the alphabet)

Who Was Alfred L. Cralle

Alfred was born in Kenbridge, VA just after the Civil War ended. After his early school life, he went to work with his father in the carpentry business.

While he was working with his dad, he became interested in mechanical things.

His parents decided to send him to college to further his education.

Cralle attended Wayland Seminary in Washington DC. This was one of the schools set up after the Civil War to help African Americans improve their education.

After leaving the seminary, Cralle moved to Pittsburgh, PA and took a job as a porter at the Saint Charles hotel.  Merkell Brothers Drugstore was in the hotel. 

It was a hot summer and at the soda counter of the Merkell Brothers Drugstore, people were buying lots of ice cream.

He noticed that the soda jerks had to hold the cone with one hand and try to get the ice cream out with the other and then get it into the cones. People were using ladles or spoons and it was both tricky,  difficult, and the scoops were not uniform.

His got a beautiful, mechanical idea.

What Did He Invent

Ready for this?

Alfred L. Cralle Patented The Ice Cream Scoop in 1897!

Alfred L. Cralle's Patent

This is the one and only thing Alfred L. Cralle patented. It was such an amazing thing that it was reproduced and sold like fire. 

The basic design, as you can see is still in use today, and all of our current ice cream scoops are based on this one patent.

He never got a penny for this invention, nobody seems to remember he invented it at all.

He died in a car accident after suffering a series of personal losses.

His Legacy?
Yum. Ice Cream.

The next time you reach into the drawer and pull out your ice cream scoop, or see one on the shelf, or go into Cold Stone or Baskin Robbins...give a quick thank you to Alfred L. Cralle.

He made the world of ice cream infinitely sweeter!

Celebrate Black History Month!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Day 20 - Charles S. L. Baker - The Friction Radiator

Charles S. L. Baker  (L) and an assistant standing behind his invention

Charles S. L. Baker

1859 - 1926

Who Was He?

Charles S. L. Baker was born in Savannah, MO.

After the Civil War, he was freed from enslavement. At the age of fifteen, Baker started working with wagons and the linchpins he repaired sparked his interest in mechanical sciences.

He became yet another African American inventor who was a self-taught mechanical engineer.

The thing that fascinated Baker was friction.

Friction could produce heat without any need for an outside heating source. it made him wonder how one could harness this process.

He spent decades trying to harness the power of friction in a practical application. It took him twenty-three years of trial and error using various things before he finally perfected a good process of using friction in a practical application. He designed a device and patented his invention.

What Did He Invent?

Charles S. L. Baker created a radiator that used friction to create the heat. 

After creating and patenting this device, Baker and a few other men opened a company called The Friction Heat & Boiler Company. Baker sat on the board of directors. 

In his day, Baker was a well-to-do, famous man in his hometown. The small business that he and his friends ran was reportedly very successful. 

I found lots of municipal records of The Friction Heat and Boiler Company, but nothing more about it.

I did find a death notice for Baker. 

Baker, Charles S. L. (1860-1926)

His Legacy?

I considered not including Baker in this list because to my knowledge, nobody is using this friction radiator that he created, but he claimed it was cheaper to run than the radiators that were in use in homes of the time. That radiator, the one that is still in use, was created by Franz San Galli, a Prussian born inventor.

There was a journal called The Draftsman that looked at inventions. It has not been in print for a long time, but follow that link and you can get a copy of it if you really want to read what must be a real page-turner of a book about inventions in the early 1900s. There was even a review of Baker's radiator.

"Mr. Baker claims that the particular mode of power used in creating the friction is not essential. It may be wind, water, gasoline, or any other source of energy. The most difficult part of the inventor's assertions to prove is that his system will light or heat a house at about half the cost of methods now in use." The Draftsman 1908

It appears that methods "now in use" won out over the friction radiator...but I wonder. 
As we move into more green forms of energy and we try to find ways to lower our energy costs 
could the friction radiator make a comeback?

Celebrate Black History!