When looking at the history of patents in the United States, it’s important to note that melanated citizens were not able to patent their inventions until 1861. Up to that point, if a slave came up with an invention, the credit was given to his slave master.
That regulation was based on the legal presumption that “the master is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual”.
On March 3, 1821, when a free man named Thomas L. Jennings became the first African-American allowed to receive a patent, it generated a considerable amount of controversy.
Thomas L. Jennings received a patent for discovering a process called “Dry-scouring” which helped revolutionize the dry cleaning business. He came up with the idea after becoming the owner of a dry cleaner in his mid 20’s and realizing the need for a more efficient process.
Not only was he a successful businessman but also a passionate abolitionist, using the money he earned from his invention to fund several abolitionist causes.