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Celebrating inventors during Black History Month

By Maxine Shapiro, KERA 90.1 business commentator

Dallas, TX – Though Black History Month might be winding down, the names that elevated this country into greatness should be remembered year-round. I'm Maxine Shapiro with KERA Marketplace Midday.

It originated as Negro History Week in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson. When it expanded to a month, February was the clear choice; in reverence to Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays both fall in February.

Carter G. Woodson was the first American historian who opened the long-neglected field of Black studies. Woodson, the son of a slave, was born in 1875. He was unable to attend high school until the age of 20. What's age?! Woodson went on to study at the University of Chicago, the Sorbonne, and Harvard University. That's where he earned a Ph.D. in 1912. His life was spent educating "all people about the vast contributions made by Black men and women throughout history."

Today he might be disappointed to know that out of all the great Black inventors in this country, only six have been inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame. Probably the most widely known is George Washington Carver. The next time you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for your kids, you might want to remind them that it was Carver who popularized the spread in 1880. In fact, houses should have a shrine to him. In total, Carver invented three hundred more uses for peanuts and a hundred more uses for soybeans, pecans and sweet potatoes.

Percy Julian, the second African-American to be inducted, invented - during World War II - AeroFoam, an extinguisher for gasoline and oil fires. He also used his synthesis of cortisone from soybeans to help rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation.

Not inducted is Benjamin Banneker, who invented the first Farmer's Almanac. When he sent it to then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, he urged him to help get rid of "absurd and false ideas" that one race is superior to another.

For KERA Marketplace Midday, I'm Maxine Shapiro.

Marketplace Midday Reports air on KERA 90.1 Monday - Friday at 1:04 p.m. To contact Maxine Shapiro, please send emails to