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Lewis Howard Latimer (1848 - 1928)


Key Questions

Use the stories of Latimer and McLurkin to provide some examples and/or evidence for the responses to these discussion questions.

1. What skills and talents does an inventor need to develop to be successful?

2. Do you think black inventors face any different obstacles than white inventors do? Explain your answer.

3. What role does invention play in society?

4. Is there ever a “down side” to invention? Explain.

5. Do you think that black scientists and inventors in America are as well known as those of other ethnic backgrounds? Why or why not?




Have student identify an item on the list of inventions by black inventors below that they consider to be particularly helpful to them, their family, and/or society. Assign them the task of finding out who invented it. How long ago was the first version created? How is it different from the version in their home? Have them write a short biographical sketch of the inventor. They should include information about opportunities and obstacles in that person’s experiences. They will then present a 2-3 minute oral summary of their findings to the class, and turn in the written version to you for eventual display. The final product could be a visual display board, a written paper, or if time and resources permit, a very short video.

Air Conditioning Unit

Folding Bed

Mail Box


Folding Chair


Auto Cut-Off Switch

Fountain Pen


Auto Fishing Devise

Furniture Caster

Peanut Butter

Automatic Gear Shift

Gas Mask

Pencil Sharpener

Baby Buggy

Golf Tee

Record Player Arm

Bicycle Frame



Biscuit Cutter

Hair Brush

Riding Saddles

Blood Plasma Bag

Hand Stamp

Rolling Pin

Cellular Phone

Horse Shoe Shampoo Headrest

Chamber Commode

Ice Cream Scooper Spark Plug

Clothes Dryer

Improved Sugar Mfg Stethoscope

Curtain Rod

Insect Destroyer Gun Stove

Curtain Rod Support

Ironing Board Straightening Comb

Door Stop

Key Chain Street Sweeper

Dust Pan

Lantern Phone Transmitter

Egg Beater

Lawn Mower Thermostat Control

Electric Lampbulb

Lemon Squeezer Traffic Light


Lock Tricycle

Eye Protector

Lubricating Cup

Fire Escape Ladder

Lunch Pail


Creative Writing

Have your students write a story describing what his/her life might be like today if the invention they identified in the previous activity had never been invented. Have them imagine/speculate upon being without that invention; what interconnected activities and things would result from not having that invention.

Assign your students to write an imaginary conversation between Lewis Latimer and James McLurkin exploring a time in their youth. Talk about their ideas and interest in science, their school experiences, likes and dislikes, etc. Encourage them to be creative, but not to depart from the plausible, based on information they can gather about both men’s childhood.

Have students write a poem about either inventor that includes:

  • For Latimer: at least four of his inventions
  • For McLurkin: at least four quotes about his work or philosophy from a video, interview, or from his written work.

Incorporate any appropriate literary rules or techniques into your instructions for writing the poem.


Experiential Activity

Interview a black entrepreneur- Student will research a local African American scientist of their choice, and arrange to interview that person. Prior to the interview, they must gather a body of information about the particular business/industry and the neighborhood or market area involved, and develop a series of 10-12 questions for the interviewee. The interview is to be audio or video taped, and could be transcribed later, or presented in its original media, but edited for time and specificity. Specifics of final interview format to be determined by the equipment and resources available to your students.

Contact a local chapter of a fraternal or professional organization that supports and promotes minority involvement in science and engineering. There are several national organizations that may have local chapters in your city or town. Some examples are The National Society of Black Engineers,, or any of the organizations listed in this resource site called, African Americans in Science Many national black sororities and fraternities like Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. and Omega Psi Phi, Inc. can help you arrange an interview with a black scientist or inventor who is accessible in your area.



Web sites



The Poetry of African American Invention
by Wina Marchi, 2005

Great Black Heroes : Five Notable Inventors (Hello Reader! Series)
by Wade Hudson, Ron Garnett (Illustrator) , Ron Garrett (Illustrator), 1995

To Fathom More: African American Scientists and Inventors
by Edward Sidney Jenkins, 2001

Black Stars: African American Women Scientists and Inventors (Hardcover)
Otha Richard Sullivan (Author), Jim Haskins (Editor), 2002

Additional Contemporary Black Inventors

James McLurkin, Ph.D.-Robotics

Ayanna Howard-Bionics

Jacqueline Beaucamp-Digital Media/Games

Mark Dean-Computer Hardware

Donna Auguste-Computer Software


  • Plausible = believable, realistic.
  • Patent solicitor = lawyer who specializes in legal work having to do with patents.
  • Filament = the thin wire inside an incandescent light bulb.
  • Distributed algorithms = a logical sequence of steps for solving a problem, often written out as a flow chart, that can be translated into a computer program.* In this case the algorithm is shared (distributed) among the swarm of mini robots.
  • Autonomous = independent, separate.


Black Entrepreneurs

The Apparel Industry

Artists & Musicians

Hair Care & Beauty

Hospitality & Event Planning



Professional Services

Real Estate & Boarding Houses

Writers, Publishers & Producers

Museum of African American History, Boston & Nantucket  © 2009