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    The Gifts of African American Innovation

    February 12, 2014

February 12, 2014

The Gifts of African American Innovation

African Americans have been prolific inventors, providing a multitude of gifts to the nation that once enslaved them.  Many of these inventions have had a wide and long-lasting impact and now form a part of our everyday lives.

George Washington Carver

Best known among African American inventors is George Washington Carver.  During his career, Dr. Carver researched and developed more than 300 uses for peanuts including chili sauce, shampoo, shaving cream, and glue.

In 1916, he published the research bulletin, How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it For Human Consumption. At the time, the boll weevil had destroyed Alabama’s cotton crop and many farmers had turned to peanuts as a cash crop. Cotton oil mills were converted to produce peanut oil. Livestock could eat the peanut plant and sharecroppers could feed their families on crops that weren’t sold. It is not overstating matters to say that Dr. Carver and the peanut helped save the economy of the South.

Alfred L. Cralle

Alfred L. Cralle’s name is perhaps lesser known, but as an African American inventor, he developed and patented the first ice cream scoop, something very familiar to ice cream lovers everywhere.  Even though ice cream has been around for centuries and no one can be specifically credited with its invention, thanks to Alfred Cralle, getting the frozen dessert out of the container became much easier.  Alfred L. Cralle was born September 4, 1866 in Kenbridge, Virginia and attended schools in his community. He showed an early interest in how things worked. After Cralle finished his schooling and worked for a time in his father’s carpentry business, he moved to Pittsburgh, PA where he worked in the Markell Brothers drugstore and for the St. Charles Hotel. Cralle noticed that while ice cream had become a popular dessert, it was a big problem to serve, sticking to spoons and ladles. Often it required two sets of hands and multiple implements to get it from the container to the serving dish.  It could be a monumental mess!

His first ice cream scoop looked like a wooden stick with a metal cone on top. Originally known as an ice cream mold and disher, it was designed to keep the ice cream from sticking and be easy to use with one hand. He experimented with scoops using various inexpensive materials for the cone, the part that held the ice cream when it was scooped from the container. This strong, inexpensive, and effective device allowed ice cream to be served faster and more hygienically.  Today the ice cream scoop is a common household utensil and its invention did much to make ice cream a popular dessert around the world.

A History of Innovation

The successes of men such as Carver and Cralle did much to dispel demeaning characterizations used to stereotype African Americans following the end of the Civil War.  Their tenacity in the realms of science and business inspired others to break down barriers for African Americans in the arts, sports, and politics.  A society gains strength in part from its ability to innovate and adapt.  The long tradition of African American innovation has contributed in a significant way to the growth of our modern economy.


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