In honor of Black History Month, we salute the many past and present black innovators who have contributed significantly to shaping the manufacturing, communications and computing industries. Here are just a few of the many creators who built the world we live in today and make our work at Tulip possible:
Miriam E. Benjamin (1861-1947) was one of the first black women to receive a patent from the United States government, for her invention of a gong and signal chair. Her chair’s notification system allowed individuals to alert an attendant when assistance was needed. By depressing a button, a gong or ring would sound at the same moment that a red signal or flag on the chair itself would be made visible. The system was eventually adopted by the United States House of Representatives and was a precursor to the signaling system used on airplanes for passengers to seek assistance from flight attendants. 130 years later, manufacturers are using this concept in Andon systems to signal when an issue has occurred on the factory floor.
Otis Boykin (1920-1982) was an inventor and engineer who patented 28 electronic devices. His work on improved electrical resistors made possible the steady workings of a wide variety of electrical devices. His advances meant electronic devices could be made cheaper and more reliable than previously possible. His resistors were quickly incorporated into many products ranging from common household goods to complex military technologies that are still used throughout the world today.
Marian Croak is credited as a developer of Voice over IP, creating most of the methods and features that both improved its reliability and ushered in its nearly universal adoption. She has over 100 patents in VoIP technology with over 100 more under review by the United States Patent Office. Her groundbreaking technology allows people to efficiently communicate through audio and/or video while using the internet. She is a Vice President of Engineering at Google, and previously served as Senior Vice President of Research and Development at AT&T Labs, where she was responsible for a team of over 2,000 engineers.
Mark Dean is an inventor and computer engineer credited in the development of a number of landmark technologies including the color PC monitor, the Industry Standard Architecture system bus and the first gigahertz chip. He started working at IBM in 1980 and holds three of IBM’s original nine PC patents. Dean and his co-inventor Dennis Moeller created a microcomputer system with bus control means for peripheral processing devices. Their invention paved the way for growth in the Information Technology industry by allowing the use of plug-in subsystems and peripherals like disk drives, video gear, speakers, and scanners.
Alicia Boler Davis is the Executive Vice President of Global Manufacturing at General Motors Company, and was named the 2018 Black Engineer of the Year. She joined GM in 1994 as a manufacturing engineer, and later became the first black woman to become a plant manager. In her words: “No one said ‘We don’t have women running our manufacturing plants,’ even though at the time, we didn’t. I said, ‘You know what? I think I want to run this place. At the time, it wasn’t like I saw women doing it. I just felt like it could happen’.”
Etta Falconer (1933–2002) was a mathematician who dedicated her entire career to increasing the number of black women in mathematics and mathematics-related careers. In 1982 she became one of the first black women to earn a Master’s Degree in Computer Science. While teaching at Spelman College, she instituted a summer science program for pre-freshmen, the NASA Women in Science Program, the NASA Undergraduate Science Research Program, and the College Honors Program.
Lisa Gelobter is a computer scientist, technologist and chief executive. She contributed to the development of animated GIFs and Shockwave technology, paving the way for internet animation and online video. Gelobter was a member of senior management for the launch of Hulu, served as Vice President of the Black Entertainment Television networks (BET), and was Chief Digital Service Officer for the United States Department of Education during the Presidency of Barack Obama.
Evelyn Boyd Granville performed pioneering work in the field of computing. She was the second black woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from an American university. After graduating from Yale in 1949, she joined IBM’s Aviation Space and Information Systems division. She worked on various projects for the Apollo space program, including digital computer techniques. After IBM she continued to teach mathematics in California and Texas.
Victor Lawrence is an Electrical Engineer who is renowned for his work in global telecommunications. His contributions made high-speed connections more available, paved the way for many developments in broadband, DSL, HDTV technologies and wireless data transfer and and stimulated the growth of the global Internet. His work has advanced data encoding and transmission, modem technology, silicon chip design, ATM switching and protocols, speech and audio coding, and digital video.
Ernst Matzeliger (1852-1889) was a self-educated inventor who immigrated to MA from Dutch Guiana. His lasting machine brought significant change to the manufacturing of shoes, and is considered the most important invention for New England and the greatest forward step in the shoe industry. We’re such a big fan of Matzeliger’s work that we named a conference room at Tulip HQ in his honor!
These are just a few of the many accomplished black innovators of the past and present who helped make the world we live in today. Here are some resources to learn about more incredible engineers and entrepreneurs: