You’ve probably seen the previews and posters for the movie that has paved the way into Black History Month this year. Hidden Figures is the story of three African-American women that not only made a difference at NASA during the 1960s but also in America’s history. African-Americans have made great contributions in the world of education, entertainment, literature, medicine and technology that often go unrecognized. In honor of the beginning of the 41st Black History Month, we’d like to draw attention a few African-American technology pioneers.
Granville Woods 1856-1910
Granville Woods was the first African-American to become a mechanical and electrical engineer after the Civil War. In 1885, Woods invented the “telegraphony,” an apparatus which allowed a telegraph station to send telegraph and voice messages between moving trains and train stations. This invention later was altered for the mechanical recording and reproduction of sound. It was named the “phonograph” and Thomas Edison was credited with inventing it. Woods and Edison went head-to-head twice, arguing over who had invented the original concept for the phonograph. After Woods defeated Edison the second time in the battle for the patent, Edison offered Woods a position with his company, which Woods declined.
Dorothy Vaughan 1910-2008
As seen in the movie, Hidden Figures, Dorothy Vaughan was a female mathematician for NASA. She became the first African-American woman to supervise staff at Langley Research Center. In the 1960s, during the space race, NASA brought in an IBM computer to perform complex calculations. At that time, developers wrote most of the software for the IBM computers using the high-level coding language, FORTRAN. After realizing that digital machines were the future of mathematics, she became fluent in FORTRAN and taught it to her co-workers. In doing so, NASA found that the mathematical division of Langley Research Center was indispensable due to its extensive knowledge of computer programming. Thanks to Vaughan’s diligence in learning computer science, she and her team played a major role in America’s first mission to the moon.
Philip Emeagwali 1954-present
Philip Emeagwali, a Nigerian-born computer scientist, is also known as the “Father of the Internet.” Emeagwali is best known for inventing the CM-2 massively-parallel super computer, at the time the world’s fastest computer. In 1989, Emeagwali won the Gordon Bell Prize for his invention. Today, his computers are credited with being used to forecast weather and predict global warming.
Mark Dean 1957-present
Mark Dean, an African-American computer scientist and engineer, holds three of IBM’s original nine patents. In his early years, Dean developed the Industry Standard Architectures (ISA) system, allowing disk drives, printers and monitors to be directly plugged into computers. He is credited with being the co-creator of the IBM personal computer, the color PC monitor and the first gigahertz chip.
The four names listed above represent a fraction of the many African-Americans that have inspired innovation. This month, we remember those who pushed past prejudices and paved the way for success in the ever-evolving technology industry. Their accomplishments sculpted the world we live in today.
Header image via Pixabay.