Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation: Granville T. Woods, Lewis H. Latimer, and Shelby J. Davidson

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According to the stereotype, late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century inventors, quintessential loners and supposed geniuses, worked in splendid isolation and then unveiled their discoveries to a marveling world. Most successful inventors of this era, however, developed their ideas within the framework of industrial organizations that supported them and their experiments. For African American inventors, negotiating these racially stratified professional environments meant not...

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Overview

According to the stereotype, late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century inventors, quintessential loners and supposed geniuses, worked in splendid isolation and then unveiled their discoveries to a marveling world. Most successful inventors of this era, however, developed their ideas within the framework of industrial organizations that supported them and their experiments. For African American inventors, negotiating these racially stratified professional environments meant not only working on innovative designs but also breaking barriers.

In this pathbreaking study, Rayvon Fouché examines the life and work of three African Americans: Granville Woods (1856–1910), an independent inventor; Lewis Latimer (1848–1928), a corporate engineer with General Electric; and Shelby Davidson (1868–1930), who worked in the U.S. Treasury Department. Detailing the difficulties and human frailties that make their achievements all the more impressive, Fouché explains how each man used invention for financial gain, as a claim on entering adversarial environments, and as a means to technical stature in a Jim Crow institutional setting.

Describing how Woods, Latimer, and Davidson struggled to balance their complicated racial identities—as both black and white communities perceived them—with their hopes of being judged solely on the content of their inventive work, Fouché provides a nuanced view of African American contributions to—and relationships with—technology during a period of rapid industrialization and mounting national attention to the inequities of a separate-but-equal social order.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

Fouché takes an interesting and challenging approach to examining the lives of three black inventors... In debunking some of the myths, including financial success and race pride, Fouché humanizes them and examines the greater significance of their work in the context of American sociological and commercial history.

Discover

Granville Woods patented devices as diverse as a steam boiler furnace and an electric incubator. Shelby Davidson strove to improve efficiency at the U.S. Treasury by inventing adding machines. Lewis Latimer co-patented a train-car lavatory and several improvements to electric lamp design. Historian Rayvon Fouché documents the struggles of these early black inventors and dismantles several myths surrounding their lives.

IEEE Spectrum Magazine

Meticulously researched and well written... Readable, interesting, and highly recommended. Fouché is to be commended for reuniting the humanity of a neglected group of inventors with their better-known inventions.

— Michael N. Geselowitz

New Scientist

Thoughtful and interesting, this book provides useful new insights into invention in the U. S. at the dawn of the electrical age.

— Antony Anderson

Technology and Culture

Fouché documents the struggles of these black inventors and dismantles several myths surrounding their lives.

— William Pretzer

The Bookwatch

Refutes the common notion that inventors were lone geniuses who worked in relative isolation in the late 19th-early 20th century world.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Rayvon Fouché is an assistant professor in the department of science and technology studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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Table of Contents

1 Inventing the myth of racial equality 9
2 Liars and thieves : Granville T. Woods and the process of invention 26
3 Lewis H. Latimer and the politics of technological assimilationism 82
4 Shelby J. Davidson : adding machines, institutional racism, and the black elite 134
5 Back to the future : reassessing black inventors in the twenty-first century 179
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2004

    WONDERFUL AND THOROUGHLY RESEARCHED

    Fouche has writen a wonderful book! Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation is clearly the most thoroughly researched book on black inventors to date. He provides a detailed account of how difficult it was for black inventors to succeed in a segregated society. His book describes the experiences of three black inventors and explains their importance to African American pople in the twentieth century. This is a must read for anyone wanting to know more about black inventors, their inventions and their lives.

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