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7 things you didn't know were invented by Black women

Valerie Thomas, the inventor of the illusion transmitter, and Patricia Bath, the brains behind the Laserphaco probe.
Valerie Thomas, the inventor of the illusion transmitter, and Patricia Bath, the brains behind the Laserphaco probe.NASA/Interim Archives/Getty Images; Jemal Countess/Getty Images
  • Black women are behind some of history's most groundbreaking inventions and innovations.

  • The home security system and the modern ironing board were both created by Black women.

  • Here are seven Black women inventors to recognize and celebrate for Women's History Month in March.

Marie Van Brittan Brown invented the first home security system in the 1960s.

A building security system.
A building security system.Letizia Le Fur/Getty Images

In 1966, Brown was working as a nurse and living in a high-crime neighborhood when she invented the device. With the help of her husband, electronics technician Albert Brown, she developed the system to give her a view of her front door.

The security system consisted of a sliding camera, television monitors, two-way microphones, and four peepholes, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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The sliding camera used the peepholes to capture images of people at different heights, while the microphone allowed Brown to speak with the person outside. She also installed an emergency button that would alert police or security if pressed.

MIT also notes that Brown's invention marked the first time closed-circuit television, or CCTV, was used in a security system.

Valerie Thomas was behind the illusion transmitter, which NASA later used in its satellite technology.

In this black and white photo, Valerie Thomas wears glasses and light pants while standing in front of a chalkboard.
Valerie Thomas stands in front of a blackboard at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, 1979.NASA/Interim Archives/Getty Images

Thomas was one of only two women in her class at Morgan State University to major in physics. She eventually landed a position as a data and mathematical analyst at NASA, where she managed the development of image-processing systems for the "Landsat" satellite.

After seeing a light illusion at an exhibit in 1976, Thomas was inspired to create the illusion transmitter, which uses concave mirrors to produce optical illusion images, per MIT. She received a patent for her invention in 1980.

The trailblazing scientists' technology led to the development of 3-D imaging. However, success didn't come without hard work: In a 2021 essay for Oprah Daily, Thomas revealed she had only seen computers in movies when she began working at NASA. She retired from the program in 1995.

Sarah Boone invented and patented the first modern ironing board in 1892.

An iron on an green patterned ironing board.
An iron on an ironing board.Huzaime Wahid/EyeEm via Getty Images

According to the New Britain Industrial Museum in Connecticut, Boone was born enslaved in North Carolina in 1832. She and her husband had eight children when she moved to New Haven, Connecticut, in the 1850s.

Boone was working as a dressmaker in 1892 when she came up with the idea for a better ironing board with collapsible legs.

"My improved device is not only adapted for pressing the inside and outside seams of the sleeves of ladies waists and mens' coats, but will be found particularly convenient, also, in pressing curved waist-seams wherever they occur," her patent application stated, per the museum.

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner's sanitary belt was the predecessor to the menstrual pad.

An early sanitary belt made by Kotex.
An early sanitary belt made by Kotex.Joshua Yospyn for The Washington Post via Getty Images

After dropping out of Howard University due to financial pressure in the 1930s, Kenner held a number of odd jobs while working on her inventions on the side. She eventually saved up enough money to file her first patent — a belt for a sanitary napkin — by 1957.

Kenner's design consisted of an adjustable belt with a moisture-proof napkin pocket built inside. Vice reported in 2018 that the contraption made it less likely that menstrual blood would leak out and stain clothes.

Despite the challenges of racism in her field, Kenner continued to innovate. According to MIT, she also created a walker with an attachable pocket and tray, a back washer for the shower, and a modernized toilet paper dispenser.

Bridget "Biddy" Mason invested her money and effort into developing the area that would become downtown Los Angeles.

A street in modern-day downtown Los Angeles, California.
A street in modern-day downtown Los Angeles, California.Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

In the mid-1800s, Mason was forced to walk more than 2,000 miles with her enslavers to California while caring for her three young children.

After she won her and her family's freedom in what the ACLU of Northern California calls a "landmark court case," she went on to become one of the first Black landowners — and one of the richest women — in Los Angeles.

With a fortune equal to $7.5 million in today's money, she became a renowned philanthropist in the area. She co-founded and financed the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is now the oldest church founded by African Americans in Los Angeles.

She also established a daycare for working parents and opened an account where families who lost their homes to floods could get supplies.

At a wreath-laying ceremony for Mason in February 2022, Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León called her "one of the greatest angels our city has ever had," CBS reports.

"We are here to remember her bravery, her hard work, civic-mindedness — and her unparalleled generosity to her fellow Angelenos," he said. "Without question, she is a pillar in the history of our great city."

Dr. Patricia Bath was an ophthalmologist who invented a cutting-edge device for cataract surgery.

Dr. Patricia Bath at the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival on April 27, 2012.
Dr. Patricia Bath at the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival on April 27, 2012.Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Bath's Laserphaco probe and technique led to her posthumous induction to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2021. She and engineer Marian Croak became the first two Black women to be inducted into the organization.

The doctor was also the first Black female physician to receive a medical patent, the first Black woman to complete a residency in ophthalmology at New York University, and the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the US, according to NPR.

She also received five patents throughout her career, all while advocating for racial minorities in the public health sector.

Tahira Reid Smith invented the automatic double dutch machine as an undergraduate engineering student at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Smith, who is currently a professor of mechanical engineering and engineering design at Penn State University, told MIT she first drew her idea for the machine in third grade. She said she enjoyed double dutch as a kid but couldn't play much as an only child.

After working with her mentor and other students in her program, Reid's invention was brought to life the semester before she graduated. Although the patents are currently dormant, Smith said she wants to revisit the design in the future.

"This story draws people, inspires people — inspires kids, especially. I think it helped me to be set apart. First of all, I'm already rare in engineering: Black female mechanical engineer," she said. "There's not a lot of us. And so, it just helped to shine a different light on me as well."

Read the original article on Insider