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3 African American Inventors and How Their Inventions Changed the World (Part 2)

Feb 9, 2018 12:00 AM

The field of science has progressed through the ages. Some of the earliest scientists discovered that the earth revolves around the sun, how germs spread disease, microscopes with which to see small living organisms. Then as technology came on the scene in the early 19th century, factories spun yarn to make clothing, the first steam locomotive was invented, as well as the telegraph. Modern technology has grown by leaps and bounds in the 21st century too.

One inventor who saw a need in the city of Chicago was Sarah Goode. Mrs. Good was born between the years 1850 and 1855. The year of her birth is unknown as she was born into slavery. (During that time, plantation owners did not record the births of their slaves.) Her father was a carpenter, and he taught her how to make different items. When she became a free woman after the Civil War, Sarah moved to Chicago, Illinois in the late 1860’s or early 1870’s. While living there, she met and married her husband, Archibald, who built stairs, as well as other types of carpentry. In 1880, they opened a furniture store. The date of her death is not known, but it is said that Mrs. Goode passed in the Spring of 1905.

Little is known about the details of her life, but what we do know is that she was the first African American woman to obtain a patent for her most recognized achievement, the Sarah E. Goode Cabinet Bed. The US Patent and Trademark Office issued the patent in 1885. She created this piece of furniture to serve two functions. Many of her customers that came to the furniture store were working-class people who lived in small apartments, like a Studio apartment. Since these individuals were short on space in their homes, the Cabinet Bed appealed to them because it was an elegant roll-top desk during the daytime, and it had doors and hinges that when opened, converted into a functional bed in the evening. It is the first “hide-away” bed of it’s kind.

Philip B. Downing was born into a large, upper-class family in March 1857. His father was an abolitionist, and they lived in Rhode Island. At one point during his childhood, his father was the manager for the dining room in the US House of Representatives. Philip’s mother had family ties in New York City since the 1600’s. His family moved around a bit before he settled in Boston, Massachusetts in 1880. Philip met Evangeline Howard and the couple married shortly after that. Mr. Downing died when he was 77 years old.

Thanks to Mr. Downing, there are blue mailboxes strategically placed all over large cities and towns throughout the US. Philip designed the Street Letter Box to make it easier for individuals to mail their letters. Back then, the only way to mail letters or packages was to go to the post office. For some people, this meant quite a drive into town, which was inconvenient. Not only did the new mailboxes make it easier to send mail through the postal system, but it also protected the letters from the weather because the door closes tightly with a hood that hangs over the door. He received the patent for the Street Letter Box in 1891. According to the website, Black (, another invention that he’s recognized for is the railway switches that allowed the tracks to be changed.

What is your favorite kind of potato chip - Barbeque, original, or kettle cooked? Well, the man most recognized and to thank for the potato chip is George Crum. Mr. Crum (Speck) was born in the state of NY between the years 1822 - 1828 to Abraham and Diana Speck. The large family lived in the small town of Saratoga Springs, NY. George was mixed because his father was an African American and his mother was of Native American descent. George did not have a happy childhood as he was left to help his mother care for the welfare of his siblings. His father was not home much because he was incarcerated much of the time. Abraham was a “jockey,” and eventually, George decided to take on his father's racing name and changed his last name to Crum. George enjoyed the outdoors and worked as a guide in the Adirondack Mountains when he was young. He was a well-known hunter and fisherman in his area and supplied a few of the hotels with his catches. It wasn't until his older years that George discovered his culinary skills. The more he cooked, the more he enjoyed it. Mr. Crum accepted the post at the Moon Lake Lodge Resort and thus began his career as a renowned chef. He met Elizabeth Bennet, and the couple had three children. Their relationship was rocky, and eventually, both parties separated and remarried other people. In 1860, Crum left the lodge to open his own restaurant. George Crum died between the years 1904 – 1914.

Legend has it that a customer who was dining at the Moon Lake Lodge Restaurant did not care of the potatoes that he was served with his meal. He complained that the potatoes were too thick. George was frustrated with this person because he requested that the potatoes be cut thinner and cooked in oil. Out of spite, George decided to slice the potatoes extremely thin, then fry them in the oil and season with a little salt. When the customer tasted the potatoes, he was very pleased and raved about the chips! Originally, potato chips were called Sarasota Chips because of the location, Sarasota Springs, NY. There was a kind of potato chip that existed before George Crum discovered this method. Unfortunately, Mr. Crum did not patent his invention, and there are other legends concerning the invention of the potato chip, but they are up for debate. For more information about the evolution of the potato chip, review the website Chips, Crums and Specks of Saratoga County History (

Scientists and inventors from all walks of life have designed and discovered valuable instruments and provided insights about the universe, as well as foods to make the world a better place. The same is true with the inventors mentioned in this series of posts. These men and women were African American and faced much opposition, but they didn’t let negative criticisms stop them or distract them. Instead, they kept their priorities and goals in sight and designed items they knew would benefit humanity.

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