Black Inventors and Pioneers of Science

Scientists, engineers, and inventors find the solutions to the world's problems. Learn about the work that these scientists and inventors have accomplished that make our lives better.



Mae C. Jemison
Born: October 17, 1956
Occupation: Astronaut 


Before her 30th birthday, Mae C. Jemison had received two undergraduate degrees and a medical degree, served two years as a Peace Corps medical officer in West Africa, and was selected to join the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's astronaut training program. Her eight-day space flight aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992 established Jemison as the United States' first female African American space traveler.


Benjamin S. Carson
Born: September 18, 1951
Occupation: Pediatric Neurosurgeon


Benjamin S. Carson is an internationally acclaimed neurosurgeon best known for separating conjoined twins. He was the first black person accepted into the residency program at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Carson feels strongly about motivating young people to fulfill their potential and he often lectures to students around the nation. He advises young people to "think big" and he has written a book by that title.


Percy L. Julian
Born: April 11, 1899
Died: April 19, 1975
Occupation: Chemist


Percy L. Julian is known as the "soybean chemist," for his extraordinary success in developing innovative drugs and industrial chemicals from natural soya products. The firefighting solution he devised, known as “bean soup,” helped save the lives of thousands of sailors and naval airmen during World War II. His discoveries earned him more than 130 chemical patents and many professional awards.

His spirit lives on in dozens of lifesaving discoveries, as well as in the halls of Percy L. Julian Junior High School in Oak Park, Illinois. Julian was quoted as saying, "I have had one goal in my life, that of playing some role in making life a little easier for the persons who come after me."

George Washington Carver
Born: January 1864
Died: January 5, 1943
Occupation: Agricultural Chemist, Agriculturalist, Scientist, Educator

George Washington Carver was an agricultural chemist who gained acclaim for his discovery of alternative farming methods. Carver is best known for his discovery of uses for the peanut. Among the products Carver developed from peanuts were soap, face powder, mayonnaise, shampoo, metal polish, and adhesives—but he did not invent peanut butter.


Mark E. Dean
Born: March 2, 1957
Occupation: Computer Engineer

Mark E. Dean is one of the top engineering minds at the International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation. He made his first mark in the industry in the early 1980s, when he and a colleague developed a system that allowed computers to communicate with printers and other devices. Every time you print something, you can thank Dean. In all, Dean holds 20 patents, and was honored as one of the "50 Most Important African Americans in Technology" by the California African-American Museum in 2000. Dean feels the need to increase awareness of the contributions of African American engineers to the African American community and the engineering industry in general.


Madame C. J. Walker
Born: December 23, 1867
Died: May 25, 1919
Occupation: Inventor/Businesswoman

Sarah Breedlove Walker, better known as Madame C. J. Walker, created a cosmetic empire by inventing a system of hair straightening. This was an important development because for generations before her revolutionary process, blacks had straightened hair on ironing boards, which endangered the scalp and face and broke the hair. She was both an inventor and an entrepreneur; she opened a shop, trained assistants, and opened a beauty school.

Eventually, she moved the operation to Indianapolis and built her first factory. By 1917, Walker employed 3,000 workers in America's largest black-owned business and was profiting from sales of equipment and supplies and from her chain of beauty schools.