Every February our nation celebrates Black History Month. This year, we would like to spotlight the significant impact of African Americans in the auto industry. Even before the first automobile rolled off an assembly line here in the United States, African American inventors were leaving their mark.
In 1839, inventor Edmond Berger created a precursor to what would be the modern spark plug. However, his invention would have been experimental in nature since internal combustion engines themselves were still experimental.
Richard Spikes, an African American inventory from California, designed what we would call a turn signal today in 1913. It was used in a wide array of transportation including trains and automobiles. He is also credited with a number of other automotive inventions, including the automatic gear shift and a safety braking system.
The first and only automobile company established by an African American, C. R Patterson and Sons, was founded in 1915 in Ohio. The company produced automobiles, buses, and trucks and was quite successful up through the Great Depression. It finally closed in 1939.
In 1923, Garrett A. Morgan, an African American inventor, patents the traffic signal. His wasn’t the first traffic signal; however, it had three positions to make crossing at intersections safer than earlier versions had.
This is just a small number of the numerous innovations early African Americans introduced to the automotive industry.