Just a few Black Inventors
Frederick M. Jones was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 17, 1892. After returning from France after serving in World War I, Mr. Jones worked as a garage mechanic. His mastery of electronic devices was largely self-taught, through work experience and the inventing process. With his experience as a mechanic he developed a self-starting gasoline motor. In the late 1920’s Frederick Jones designed a series of devices for the developing movie industry, which adapted silent movie projectors to use talking movie stock. He also developed an apparatus for the movie box-office that delivers tickets and returns change to customers. Frederick M. Jones was granted more than 40 patents in the field of refrigeration.In 1935 he invented the first automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks. The system was, in turn, adapted to a variety of other common carriers, including ships and railway cars. The invention eliminated the problem of food spoilage during long shipping times. The ability to provide fresh produce across the United States during the middle of summer or winter changed the American consumer’s eating habits. Jones’ inspiration for the refrigeration unit was a conversation with a truck driver who had lost a shipment of chickens because the trip took too long, the ice had melted and the truck’s storage compartment overheated. Frederick Jones also developed an air-conditioning unit for military field hospitals and a refrigerator for military field kitchens. Frederick Jones received a total of over 60 patents in his career.
Benjamin Banneker was born in 1731 just outside of Baltimore, Maryland, the son of a slave. His grandfather had been a member of a royal family in Africa and was wise in agricultural endeavors. His father, Robert, was an African en-slaved, who purchased his freedom and his mother, Mary, was the daughter of a freed African who was en-slaved and an English woman. As a young man, he was allowed to enroll in a school run by Quakers and excelled in his studies, particularly in mathematics. Soon, he had progressed beyond the capabilities of his teacher and would often make up his own math problems in order to solve them.
One day his family was introduced to a man named Josef Levi who owned a watch. Young Benjamin was so fascinated by the object that Mr. Levi gave it to him to keep, explaining how it worked. Over the course of the next few days, Benjamin repeatedly took the watch apart and then put it back together. After borrowing a book on geometry and another on Isaac Newton’s Principal (laws of motion) he made plans to build a larger version of the watch, mimicking a picture he had seen of a clock. After two years of designing the clock and carving each piece by hand, including the gears, Banneker had successfully created the first clock ever built in the United States. For the next thirty years, the clock kept perfect time.
In 1776, the Third Continental Congress met and submitted the Declaration of Independence from England. Soon thereafter, the Revolutionary War broke out and Banneker set out to grow crops of wheat in order to help feed American troops. His knowledge of soil gained from his grandfather allowed him to raise crops in areas which had previously stood barren for years.
When a family friend died and left him a book on astronomy, a telescope and other scientific inventions, Banneker became fascinated with the stars and the skies. His friends Joseph and Joseph Ellicott loaned him books on astronomy as well as other tools and he taught himself astronomy and mathematics. He soon was able to predict events such as solar eclipses and sunrises and sunsets. In 1792, he developed his first almanac, predicting weather and seasonal changes and also included tips on planting crops and medical remedies. Banneker sent a copy of his book to Thomas Jefferson, at that time the Secretary of State and in a twelve page later expressed to Jefferson that Blacks in the United States possessed equal intellectual capacity and mental capabilities as those Whites who were described in the Declaration of Independence. As such, he stated, Blacks should also be afforded the same rights and opportunities afforded to whites. This began a long correspondence between the two men that would extend over several years.
Around the same time, President Washington decided to move the Nation’s Capitol from Philadelphia to an area on the border of Maryland and Virginia and Major Andrew Ellicott asked Banneker to assist in surveying the “Federal Territory”.
Major Pierre L’Enfant from France was commissioned to develop the plans for for the new city and at Jefferson’s request, Banneker was included as one of the men appointed to assist him. Banneker consulted frequently with L’Enfant and studied his draft and plans for the Capitol City carefully. L’Enfant was subject to great criticism and hostility because he was a foreigner and abruptly resigned from the project and moved back to France. As the remaining members of the team gathered, they began debating as to how they should start from scratch. Banneker surprised them when he asserted that he could reproduce the plans from memory and in two days did exactly as he had promised. The plans he drew were the basis for the layout of streets, buildings and monuments that exist to this day in Washington D.C.
Benjamin Banneker died quietly on October 25, 1806, lying in a field looking at the stars through his telescope. Nations around the world mourned his passing, viewing him as a genius and the United States’ first great Black Inventor. In 1980, the U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp in his honor.
Many of the world’s most famous inventors only produced one major invention that garnered recognition and cemented their prominent status. But Garret Augustus Morgan, one of the country’s most successful African-American inventors, created two – the gas mask and the traffic signal.
Born in the last quarter of the nineteenth century to former slaves, Garrett A. Morgan was only formally educated to a sixth-grade level. Fortunately, like many great inventors, Morgan had an innate mechanical mind that enabled him to solve problems. And, unlike most other inventors, he also was a skilled entrepreneur. After moving to Cleveland, Ohio, at the age of 18, Garrett Morgan’s business sense and strong work ethic led him to almost immediate success. He invented and patented the first chemical hair straightener, started his own sewing equipment repair business, and even established a newspaper – the Cleveland Call.
But Morgan’s most prolific accomplishments came in his role as an inventor. He received a patent for the first gas mask invention in 1914, but it wasn’t until two years later that the idea really took off. When a group of workers got stuck in a tunnel below Lake Erie after an explosion, Morgan and a team of men donned the masks to help get them out. After the rescue was a success, requests for the masks began pouring in.
Similarly, Garrett Morgan’s other famous invention – the traffic signal – was also invented to help save lives. After witnessing an accident on a roadway, Morgan decided a device was needed to keep cars, buggies and pedestrians from colliding. His traffic signal was designed to stand on a street corner and notify vehicles and walkers whether they should stop or go. After receiving a patent in 1923, the rights to the invention were eventually purchased by General Electric.
Though the traffic signal came at the height of his career and became one of his most renowned inventions, it was just one of several innovations he developed, manufactured, and sold over the years.
Morgan invented a zig-zag stitching attachment for manually operated sewing machine. He also founded a company that made personal grooming products, such as hair dying ointments and the curved-tooth pressing comb.
As word of Garrett Morgan’s life-saving inventions spread across North America and England, demand for these products grew. He was frequently invited to conventions and public exhibitions to demonstrate how his inventions worked.
Garrett Morgan died on August 27, 1963, at the age of 86. His life was long and full, and his creative energies have given us a marvelous and lasting legacy.
Granville T. Woods (1856-1910) is known to many as “The Black Edison,” because both were great inventors who came from disadvantaged childhoods. But unlike Edison, Woods was considered fortunate to receive an education to help him on the road to his inventions. In the late nineteenth century few African-American children ever saw the inside of a classroom. Woods further educated himself by working in railroad machine shops and steel mills, and by reading about electricity. He often had friends check out library books for him, since African-Americans were excluded from many libraries at the time. Woods managed to scrape together enough knowledge of electrical engineering to invent “telegraphony,” a process that was later purchased by Alexander Graham Bell’s company.
Allowing operators to send and receive messages more quickly than before, telegraphony combined features of both the telephone and telegraph. The Bell Company’s purchase of this invention enabled Woods to become a full-time inventor. Among his later inventions was the multiplex telegraph. A success in the powerful railroad industry of the late nineteenth century, the device not only helped dispatchers locate trains, but also allowed moving trains to communicate by telegraph. This invention was so useful, that Woods found himself fighting patent suits filed by none other than Thomas Edison. Woods eventually won, but Edison continued to pursue the telegraph by offering Woods a lucrative partnership in one of Edison’s businesses. Woods refused, preferring to be independent.
Lewis H. Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1848. Along with Granville T. Woods, Latimer was one of the first major African American inventors. He first worked as an assistant to Alexander Graham Bell. Some have claimed that Latimer, not Bell, actually invented the telephone; but this is unlikely, because Latimer often defended Bell’s claims to first inventions in court. Later, Latimer became a member of Thomas Edison’s elite research team, “Edison’s Pioneers.” Here Latimer made his most important scientific contributions, by improving the light bulb invented by Edison.
Edison’s prototypical light bulb was lit by a glowing, electrified filament made of paper, which unfortunately burnt out rather quickly. Latimer created a light bulb with a filament made of the much more durable carbon. He sold the patent for the “Incandescent Electric Light Bulb with Carbon Filament” to the United States Electric Company in 1881, but did not rest on his laurels. Latimer went on to patent a process for efficiently manufacturing the carbon filament (1882), and developed the now familiar threaded socket (though his was wooden) for his improved bulb. Moreover, Latimer wrote the first book on electric lighting, Incandescent Electric Lighting (1890), and supervised the installation of public electric lights throughout New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London.
Latimer’s other patented inventions include such diverse items as the first water closet (i.e., toilet) for railroad cars (1874) and a forerunner of the air conditioner (1886). Although today’s light bulbs use filaments of tungsten, which lasts even longer than carbon, Latimer will always be remembered for making possible the widespread use of electric light, in public and at home.
Alexander Miles was born in Ohio probably in January of 1837. His father was Michael Miles of Pickaway County, and his mother was Mary Pompy. Alexander grew up in Ohio and in the late 1850s moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin, where he made his living as a barber.
Users of early elevators were responsible for opening and closing the doors manually, sometimes neglecting to close the doors and creating a hazardous situation with the shaft exposed. Duluthian; Alexander Miles solved this problem by inventing an improved mechanism to open and close elevator doors automatically when the elevator arrives or departs the floor. This is just one of the accomplishments of this successful and creative businessman who lived in Duluth in the late 1800s and was thought at the time to be the wealthiest black man in the Midwest.
Norbert Rillieux was revolutionary in the sugar industry, by inventing a refining process that reduced the time, cost, and safety risk involved in producing sugar from cane and beets. As the son of a French planter/inventor and a slave mother, Norbert Rillieux was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was educated at the L’Ecole Central in Paris, France in 1830, were he studied evaporating engineering and served as an educator.
Rillieux returned to New Orleans. He viewed the methods for refining sugar from beets and cane were dangerous, crude and required backbreaking labor. The methods threatened the slaves who were required to label boiling cane juice, from one scalding kettle to another, to produce a dark sugar. Rillieux designed an evaporating pan which enclosed a series of condensing coils in vacuum chambers, issued as a patent U.S. 4,879. The invention was later used by sugar manufacturer in Cuba and Mexico. Rillieux’s system took much of the hand labor out of the refining process, it saved fuel because the juice boiled at lower temperatures, and the new technique produced a superior final product.
The Rillieux device, was patented in 1846 and was used widely on sugar plantations in Louisiana, Mexico, and the West Indies. The invention increased sugar production and reduced operating costs for the plantation system.
Norbert Rillieux’s life suffered from prejudice on two sides; but he showed us a mind larger than the troubles assailing it.
And today, Rillieux’s evaporators are used for everything from desalting sea water to recycling processes in the space station.
“It was stated by Charles Brown, a chemist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that [Rillieux’s invention of the sugar processing pan] was the greatest invention in the history of American Chemical Engineering.” Upon Rillieux’s death he was buried in Paris, France in 1894
Matzeliger was born in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana (now called Suriname) in South America in 1852. His white father was a representative of the Dutch government, supervising factories in the colony. His black mother was a resident of Suriname, by some accounts a slave. Matzeliger demonstrated strong mechanical aptitude from an early age, and visited factories with his father. He became an apprentice machinist at age 10 and a master by the age of 19. He then set out to see the world and spent two years on a merchant ship. Docking in the U.S. in 1873, Matzeliger saw the industrial intensity of Philadelphia. Assuming he could find work easily, he stayed. But the young black man who spoke little English could not find employment. African Americans from a local church group took pity on him took him in and helped him make his way. Later he journeyed to Lynn, Massachusetts. In 1877 Massachusetts produced over half of the shoes made in the U.S. Still speaking only rudimentary English, Matzeliger again had difficulty finding work. He made few, if any friends and was rebuffed by several local churches, which did not accept Blacks. He eventually was taken on as an apprentice. In the shoe factory, he operated a McKay sole-sewing machine which partly automated the the shoe making process. But as Matzeliger soon observed, one crucial step “Lasting” could only be performed by hand: (joining the upper part of the shoe to the sole) The expert workmen who performed this task, were called “hand lasters,” and held enormous power over the entire process, and therefore over the industry, their co-workers, and prices for finished shoes. A hand laster could only complete 50 pairs of shoes in a standard 10-hour working day. But they were convinced that no machine could duplicate their skill and the industry (which had already spent large sums attempting to solve this problem) agreed. In the words of the Company of Shoemakers: “No man can build a machine that will last shoes and take away the job of the hand laster….” Matzeliger took on the challenge. Working 10-hour days, studying English at night, and then adding to that, readings in physics and mechanical science. He spent every penny he could save on materials and parts. After a long period of basic development, he felt that he had a workable solution, but required additional capital for better materials and parts. However, he also neglected to eat, and the rigors of this period resulted in a weakened condition and poor health for the inventor.
While Matzeliger had labored in obscure secret, news of his invention had begun to spread. He endured the mockery of the hand lasters, who still believed such a machine was impossible and attempted to dissuade him from the pursuit. Matzeliger eventually found two investors who contributed adequate funding, in return for two-thirds ownership, leaving the inventor with one-third. This infusion of capital enabled him to complete a second and third working prototype, and to file for a patent in 1882. The 15-page document was so complex, that the patent examiners couldn’t understand it, or believe that a machine could perform these tasks. A representative was sent to Lynn, to observe the prototype for himself. In March 1883, the U.S. Patent Office granted Patent Number 274,207 to Matzeliger for a “Lasting Machine.” Over the course of the next two years, he would perfect the basic design to the point, where a Matzeliger Lasting Machine, could make 700 pairs of shoes a day; 14 times the number previously made by hand. Demand for the machine grew quickly. A company was formed in 1889, The Consolidated Lasting Machine Company, in which Matzeliger retained substantial ownership. The United Shoe Machine Company subsequently purchased the patent, leading to a 50 percent reduction in the price of shoes, a doubling of wages for shoe factory workers, and improved working conditions. The company would eventually be worth $1 billion.
Otis Boykin was born on August 29, 1920 in Dallas, Texas. In 1941, after graduating from Fisk University, Otis Boykin was employed as a laboratory assistant for the Majestic Radio and TV Corporation of Chicago, testing automatic controls for airplanes. He later became a research engineer, with the P.J. Nilsen Research Laboratories, and eventually founded his own company Boykin-Fruth, Incorporated.
Otis Boykin is best known, for inventing an improved electrical resistor, used in computers, radios, televisions and a variety of electronic devices. His resistor helped reduce the cost of those products. Otis Boykin also invented a variable resistor used in guided missile parts, a control unit for heart stimulators, a burglar-proof cash register and a chemical air filter. In total, Otis Boykin patented twenty-eight electronic devices. Otis Boykin died of a heart failure in 1982.
Inventors often toil for their entire lifetimes creating devices which have beneficial effects on society for years – yet, that inventor might gain recognition, only after he or she has passed away. For others, even after they have gone, recognition is slow in coming, despite their great contributions.
Richard Spikes is such a person. Little has been written about Richard Spikes in terms of his childhood, education and personal life. What is known is that, he was an incredible inventor and the proof of this, is in the incredibly diverse number of creations, that have had a major impact on the lives, of everyday citizens. Over the course of his lifetime, Spikes developed the following inventions or innovations:
- railroad semaphore (1906) automatic car washer (1913) automobile directional signals (1913)
- beer keg tap (1910) self-locking rack for billiard cues (1910) continuous contact trolley pole (1919) combination milk bottle opener and cover (1926) method and apparatus for obtaining average samples and temperature of tank liquids (1931) automatic gear shift (1932)
- transmission and shifting thereof (1933) automatic shoe shine chair (1939)
- multiple barrel machine gun (1940) horizontally swinging barber chair (1950) automatic safety brake (1962)
Spikes inventions were welcomed by major companies. His beer keg tap was purchased by Milwaukee Brewing Company and the automobile directional signals which were first introduced in the Pierce Arrow, soon became standard in all automobiles. For his innovative designs of transmission and gear-shifting devices, Spikes received over $100,000.00 – an enormous sum for a Black man in the 1930s. By the time he was creating the automatic safety brake in 1962, Spikes was losing his vision. In order to complete the device, he first created a drafting machine for blind designers – by the time his braking device was completed, he was deemed legally blind. The device would soon be found in almost every school bus in the nation. Richard Spikes died in 1962 but left behind a lifetime of achievement that few could parallel.
On April 3rd, 1973, Motorola engineer Marty Cooper placed the first public call from a cellphone according to the Verge. In midtown Manhattan, Cooper called Joel Engel — head of rival research department Bell Labs — saying “Joel, this is Marty. I’m calling you from a cell phone, a real hand held portable cell phone.” The call was placed on a Motorola DynaTAC 8000x, which weighed 2.5 pounds, a far cry from today’s 4-ounce handsets.
If it wasn’t for Dr. Henry T. Sampson we wouldn’t have cell phone technology today. Isn’t it funny how the mainstream media, hasn’t made him an icon, based on his invention? Cellular telephony has spawned a Multi-billion dollar industry and has freed tens of millions of people, both at home and at work, to communicate anywhere, any time. I would have thought, that he would be on the front pages of Times and Forbes magazines, next to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, for discovering one of the greatest creations of our time. Henry T. Sampson, the Black man who invented the cell phone. On July 6th, 1971, Henry T. Sampson invented the “gamma-electric cell”, which pertains to Nuclear Reactor use. According to Dr. Sampson, the Gamma Electric Cell, patented July 6, 1971, Patent No. 3,591,860 produces stable high-voltage output and current to detect radiation in the ground. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, he received a Bachelor of Science degree from Purdue University in 1956. He went on to the University of California, Los Angeles where he graduated with an MS degree in engineering in 1961; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, MS in Nuclear Engineering in 1965, and a PHD in 1967. Henry T. Sampson worked as a research Chemical Engineer at the US Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, California. 1956-61. Henry T. Sampson then moved on to the Aerospace Corp, El Segundo, California. His titles include: Project Engineer, 1967-81, director of Planning and Operations Directorate of Space Test Program, 1981-, and Co-inventor of gamma-electric cell. He holds patents related to solid rocket motors and conversion of nuclear energy into electricity. He also pioneered a study of internal ballistics of solid rocket motors using high-speed photography. He was also a producer of documentary films on early black filmmakers and films, a member of the board of directors of Los Angeles Southwest College Foundation, and a technical consultant to Historical Black Colleges and Universities Program.
“America’s High Tech “Invisible Man””By Tyrone D. Taborn..
You may not have heard of Dr. Mark Dean. And you aren’t alone. But almost everything in your life has been affected by his work. See, Dr. Mark Dean is a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is in the National Hall of Inventors. He has more than 30 patents pending. He is a vice president with IBM. Oh, yeah. And he is also the architect of the modern-day personal computer. Dr. Dean holds three of the original nine patents on the computer that all PCs are based upon. And, Dr. Mark Dean is an African American. So how is! it that we can celebrate the 20th anniversary of the IBM personal computer without reading or hearing a single word about him?
In 1988, the news that Emeagwali had performed the world’s fastest computation had spread over the Internet. Although some people were skeptical, participants at this institute discussed his work and believed his results and even predicted that he should win the Gordon Bell Prize. The predictions came true and Emeagwali won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize. “Philip Emeagwali, who took on an enormously difficult problem and, like most students working on Ph.D. dissertations, solved it alone, has won computation’s top prize, captured in the past only by seasoned research teams.”
Thomas L. Jennings was the first black man to receive a patent. The patent was awarded on March 3, 1821 (US Patent 3306x) for his discovery of a process called dry-scouring which was the forerunner of today’s modern dry-cleaning. Jennings was born free in New York City in 1791. In his early 20s he became a tailor but then opened a dry cleaning business in the city. While running his business Jennings developed dry-scouring. The patent to Jennings generated considerable controversy during this period. Slaves at this time could not patent their own inventions; their effort was the property of their master. This regulation dated back to the US patent laws of 1793. The 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.” Patent courts also held that slaves were not citizens and therefore could not own rights to their inventions. In 1861 patent rights were finally extended to slaves. Thomas Jennings, however, was a free man and thus was able to gain exclusive rights to his invention and profit from it. Jennings was a passionate abolitionist who used the income from his invention to free the rest of his family from slavery and to fund abolitionist causes. He served as assistant secretary of the First Annual Convention of People of Color which met in Philadelphia in June 1831. Thomas Jennings died in New York City in 1856.
Henry Blair was the only inventor to be identified in the Patent Office records as “a colored man.” Blair was born in Montgomery County, Maryland around 1807. He received a patent on October 14, 1834 for a seed planter and a patent in 1836 for a cotton planter. Henry Blair was the second black inventor to receive a patent the first was ThomasJennings who received a patent in 1821 for a dry cleaning process. Henry Blair signed his patents with an “x” because he could not write. Henry Blair died in 1860.
Alfred Cralle was the first African-American in Pittsburgh to receive a patent for his invention, an ice cream mold, that was a valuable household article. A native of Virginia, he was born in Lunenberg County on September 4, 1866, and educated in the common schools of the county. Cralle later took advanced courses at Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C. He worked with his father in the carpenter trade as a young man and became interested in mechanics, before attending the Seminary. Later, he settled in Pittsburgh where he served as a porter in Markell Brothers’ drug store and the St. Charles Hotel. He was named assistant manager when the Afro-American Financial, Accumulating, Merchandise and Business Association was organized.
Dr. Patricia E. Bath, an ophthalmologist and laser scientist, is an innovative research scientist and advocate for blindness prevention, treatment, and cure. Her accomplishments include the invention of a new device and technique for cataract surgery known as laserphaco, the creation of a new discipline known as “community ophthalmology,” and appointment as the first woman chair of ophthalmology in the United States, at Drew-UCLA in 1983. As a laser scientist and inventor her interest, experience, and research on cataracts lead to her invention of the laserphaco probe. When she first conceived of the device in 1981, her idea was more advanced than the technology available at the time. It took her nearly five years to complete the research and testing needed to make it work and apply for a patent. Today the device is use worldwide. With the keratoprosthesis device, Dr. Bath was able to recover the sight of several individuals who had been blind for over 30 years.
Marjorie Stewart Joyner was born in Monterey, Virginia on October 24, 1896, the granddaughter of a slave and a slave-owner. In 1912, an eager Marjorie moved to Chicago, Illinois to pursue a career in cosmetology. She enrolled in the A.B. Molar Beauty School and in 1916 became the first Black women to graduate from the school. Following graduation, the 20 year old married podiatrist Robert E. Joyner and opened a beauty salon. She was introduced to Madame C.J. Walker, a well-known Black business-woman, specializing in beauty products and services. A dilemma existed for Black women in the 1920’s. In order to straighten tightly-curled hair, they could do so only by using a stove-heated curling iron. This was very time-consuming and frustrating as only one iron could be used at a time. In 1926, Joyner set out to make this process faster, easier and more efficient. She sought a solution to not only straighten but also provide a curl in a convenient manner. After two years Joyner completed her invention and patented it in 1928, calling it the “Permanent Waving Machine.” She thus became the first Black woman to receive a patent and her device enjoyed enormous and immediate success. It performed even better than anticipated as the curl that it added would often stay in place for several days, whereas curls from standard curling iron would generally last only one day. In addition to the success found in Madame Walker’s salons, the device was a hit in white salons as well, allowing white patrons to enjoy the beauty of their “permanent curl” or “perm” for days.
“Watching fire fighters struggle to unload heavy ladders to reach fires as buildings grew increasingly taller; led one man to an invention that has saved many lives. He was African-American inventor Joseph Winters, who patented a folding ladder mounted directly on fire wagons in 1878 for the city of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. His invention allowed firemen to quickly and easily reach upper floors to rescue trapped people and spray water where it was needed. Winters’ invention proved itself in a big fire in Baltimore in 1904 that burned many businesses and homes. In the U.S. today, there are 293,000 firefighters, just over 8 percent of them African-American.”
Physicist George Edward Alcorn, Jr. is best known for his development of the imaging x-ray spectrometer. Born on March 22, 1940 to working class parents, Alcorn was an excellent student and star athlete. He was awarded an academic scholarship to Occidental College in Pasadena, California, where he completed his B.A. in Physics in 1962. From there, Alcorn pursued graduate studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He earned his master’s degree in nuclear physics in 1963, and his Ph.D. in atomic and molecular physics in 1967. While a student, Alcorn worked as a research engineer for North American Rockwell’s Space Division. There he conducted computer analysis of launch trajectories and orbital mechanics for missiles produced by the company, such as the Titan I and II, Saturn IV, and Nova. After completing his doctoral degree he worked as a senior scientist with Philco-Ford, then with Perkin-Elmer, and later with IBM. In 1978, he joined NASA. At NASA Alcorn developed the imaging x-ray spectrometer. An x-ray spectrometer assists scientists in identifying a material by producing an x-ray spectrum of it, allowing it to be examined visually. This is especially advantageous when the material is not able to be broken down physically. Alcorn patented his “method for fabricating an imaging x-ray spectrometer” in 1984. He was cited for his method’s innovative use of the thermos-migration of aluminum. For this achievement he was recognized with the NASA/GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Center) Inventor of the Year Award. Alcorn is credited with more than 20 inventions, and holds at least eight U.S. and international patents, many of these related to the semiconductor industry.