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African American Achievements in Safety

Feb 07, 2019

These safety pioneers had a vision and made life safer for others. Their inventions in rail and traffic safety, chemical and electrical safety, aerospace safety, communications and health greatly improved how we work and live today.

They were innovators and inspirations—and they made a difference. 

Thomas MartinFire Extinguisher

Born a free man, Martin received a patent on March 26, 1872, for the first fire extinguishing suppressing apparatus, which later was remodeled as a portable extinguisher. 

Granville WoodsGranville Woods

Woods made train communication between the station and other trains possible by inventing the “Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph.” He is also responsible for inventing automatic air brakes for trains and the “third rail” concept, all being used in mass-transit rail systems today.

George Washington CarverGeorge Washington Carver

Carver's studies on soil depletion found that farmers could utilize crops such as peanuts to support their soil as well as their way of life. He taught at the Tuskegee Institute for nearly 50 years, sharing his knowledge of farming techniques and how crop rotation could improve the quality of soil and produce crops that were better for human consumption.

Garrett_Morgan_Headshot_SOCIALGarrett A. Morgan

Morgan’s safety helmet was used by the allied forces in World War I and served as the prototype for the modern-day respirator. He also patented the directional traffic signal, later changed to three colors, which now directs traffic on most roads and highways around the world.

Emmett ChappelleEmmett Chappelle

In 1958, Chappelle joined the Research Institute for Advanced Studies in Baltimore, a division of the Martin Marietta Corporation that was famous for designing airplanes and spacecraft. There, Chappelle discovered that even one-celled plants such as algae, which are lightweight and can be transported easily, can convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. This discovery helped to create a safe oxygen supply for astronauts.

Security cameraMarie Van Brittan Brown

Brown developed a video monitoring system consisting of four peep-holes and a camera, which could be utilized to view the activity around her home. The system allowed her to view someone at her front door, hear their voice and was equipped with a button to notify police, if necessary. This invention would pave the way for the video security systems that homes and businesses use today. 

Patricia BathPatricia Bath

Bath became the first African-American female physician to receive a patent for a medical invention. Her invention, the “Laserphaco Probe” (forerunner to Lasik) transformed eye surgery. It used a laser device that safely and quickly removed cataracts from patients' eyes and gave them the ability to see again.

Rodney SlaterRodney Slater

Slater was appointed U.S. Secretary of Transportation in 1997. During his term, the department repaired thousands of the country’s bridges, improving them to their best condition in years; acted aggressively to improve the safety of the U.S. rail system; averted a strike by Amtrak; and initiated a program to get all Americans to buckle their seatbelts.

maejemisonMae Jemison

Jemison was the first African American woman to travel into space on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. During her time in space, Jemison studied weightlessness and motion sickness of the Endeavour crew. Prior to Joining NASA, Jemison served in the Peace Corps, developing guidelines for health and safety issues.


Ashanti JohnsonDr. Ashanti Johnson

Johnson is a pioneer in the field of chemical oceanography. Her research activities have included how biogeochemical indicators can help us understand the impacts of previous events on marine, estuarine and freshwater environments. She is also dedicated to advancing diversity in STEM-related fields and mentoring the next generation of scientists.  

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Latrice Rone

How awesome it is to see that you are featuring these wonderful accolades by African Americans in the field of safety on the home page.  Learned a lot!


Terrell Austin

Thank you ASSP for recognizing the outstanding contributions that these and so many other African Americans provided to this great nation. I realize that your list is just a snapshot but when speaking of African American achievements in Safety, we simply cannot overlook Alexis M. Herman from Mobile, Alabama who at age 29 was the youngest Secretary of Labor in America's history. 

Keep up the great Work!

Diana Cortez

Thank you ASSP for featuring these great accomplishments of so many African Americans.  

Alexis Herman, as Terrell mentioned, had indeed a stelar career in public service.

She became the first African American to serve as the Director of the Womens Bureau at the ae of 29 under Jimmy Carter.

In 1997, She again broke the glass ceiling becoming the first African American to serve as the Secretary of Labor.


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