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Black History Month: Black Inventions That We Use Everyday To Look, Feel, And Stay Fly!

At BET, we're giving flowers to the Black inventors who provided the blueprint for some of our favorite fashion and beauty inventions!

Black people are not only influential to the culture of America, but the entire world. We see this everyday with the growing interest in our fashion, beauty, and lifestyle choices, and especially in our dance moves thanks to the rise of Black creators on TikTok. Yes, we see you brothers and sisters!

Over the decades, Black pioneers and inventors have also proven through their inventions that we have the talent and creative skills to revolutionize the everyday lives of those around us. From life-saving devices to gadgets that make everyday life easier, we played a big part in inventing groundbreaking products that deserve the same amount of love and respect as other inventors. Our legacy is worthy of celebration!

Below, we are giving our flowers to Black inventors who created innovative fashion and beauty products. Although most of them have been modernized, these inventions ultimately provided the blueprint to looking and feeling fly!

  • Conditioner For Black Hair

    Woman washing her curly hair with shampoo and a lot of lather.

    The next time you moisturize and condition your hair, remember the contribution of the first Black woman millionaire in America, Madam C. J. Walker! After experiencing hair loss, the pioneering beauty inventor created the “Walker System”— a homemade line of haircare products for Black women.

    The self-made millionaire and philanthropist also empowered other women by providing them with employment to sell her products. 

  • Dry Scouring (1821)

    Worker at dry cleaners helping customer picking up order.

    Thomas L. Jennings revolutionized the way we keep our clothes clean and fresh! In 1821, the inventor and civil rights activist became the first Black person in the United States to be granted a patent for his innovative way of dry-cleaning clothes. The method for removing dirt and grease from clothing preceded modern-day dry cleaning. It was appropriately named “dry scouring.”

  • Clothes Drier/Dryer (1892)

    Black father with son in baby carrier doing laundry.

    We all owe George T. Sampson a HUGE thank you for laying the groundwork for the electric clothes dryers. In 1892, the Ohio inventor revolutionized the way people dry clothes with his automatic clothes drier, a patented framed system that hung clothing above a burner to speed up the air-drying process.

  • Iron Board (1892)

    Young man ironing his shirt.

    When it comes to personal style, wrinkles could send the wrong message. The iron and its much-needed companion, the ironing board, ensures we never have any excuse to walk out the house with wrinkles in our clothes. 

    Although ironing methods have evolved over the decades, dressmaker Sarah Boone wowed the world when she created an innovative design that made it easier to press the sleeves and bodies of ladies' garments.

    It is worth noting that Boone became one of the first African American woman to be awarded a patent in 1892!

  • The Shampoo Head-Rest (1898)

    Close up smiling African American handsome young man washing cleaning hair with foamy anti-dandruff shampoo, taking shower, enjoying morning routine procedure, standing in bathroom

    Give thanks to Charles Orren Bailiff for making your hair salon experience more comfortable! In 1898, the Michigan inventor secured the patent on the universally popular shampoo head-rest that was expertly designed to prevent salon patrons from feeling neck tension while having their hair rinsed in shampoo bowls. 

    The device could also be conveniently attached to surgical, dental, and other chairs that needed additional neck support.

  • Durable Hair Brush (1898)

    Brushing her way to an awesome hair day.

    The next time you clean your favorite hairbrush, give a shoutout to Lyda O. Newman, an inventor who used her expertise as a hairdresser to rethink the everyday styling tool. Before the women’s rights activist received the patent to create a reimagined brush using synthetic bristles, people were subject to the less hygienic and less durable design of brushes created with animal hair. This simple improvement to a common hairbrush was a complete game-changer in 1898!

  • Straightening Comb (1920)

    Portrait of young woman outdoors

    Many Black families have a long history of using straightening combs. Although hot combs have since evolved into ceramic flat irons, the concept of straightening curls from root to end comes from Philadelphia inventor Walter Sammons. In 1920, Sammons changed the beauty world with the invention of the straightening comb, a heated tool that successfully removed “kinks” from the hair.

  • Thermo Hair Curlers (1930)

    Happy woman laughing with arms up

    Whenever you celebrate the volume and long-lasting benefits of your Thermo hair rollers, you also have to throw some confetti for Solomon Harper. In 1930, the electrical engineer revolutionized curling hair with the first electrically heated hair rollers that inspired the ones we use today. He went on to update his design in 1953.

  • Sanitary Belt (1957)

    Close-Up Of Sanitary Pads In Jeans Pocket

    Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner's invention of the sanitary belt, a product designed to prevent the leakage of menstrual blood on clothing, changed the lives of women forever!

    Although she originally invented the sanitary belt in the 1920s, it wasn’t until 1957 that she secured her first patent due to financial complications. Altogether, the thoughtful inventor received five patents and still holds the record for the most patents awarded to a Black woman by the U.S. government.

  • The Curling Iron (1980)

    Woman in Bathroom Curling Hair

    Although there is very limited information about Theora Stephens available to the public, we knew we could not wrap up this list without highlighting the hairdresser responsible for re-inventing the pressing/curling iron to be “more efficient.”

    In 1980, she was granted the patent for the groundbreaking beauty tool that we continue to use in the 21st century!

    Don’t forget to head over to BET.com to find other engaging content during Black History month by searching for #BlackHistoryMonthBET.

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