With no formal education, this Black inventor reshaped farming in the 1830s with his corn and cotton planters

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Henry Blair got his first patent for his invention of a corn planter on October 14, 1834. From afar, the planter appears like a wheelbarrow with a space created to hold the seed and a rake that turns the soil over the seeds while it is being planted.

The corn planter assisted farmers to plant with less labor and had a success rate of greater yield due to its efficiency. On August 31, 1836, Blair got another patent for a cotton planter he invented. The cotton planter had two blades that “split the earth while a cylinder located behind the blades dispersed the seeds in to the freshly ploughed grooves,” according to BlackPast. It was drawn either by a horse or any draft animal for it to function effectively.

The cotton planter also enabled farmers to deal with sprouting weeds as the blades uprooted the weeds while planting the seeds. Blair’s invention did not only help revolutionize agriculture in the 1800s but significantly improved agricultural output.   

Historians deduced that these inventions were due to the fact that Blair was a farmer himself and was looking for easy ways of planting and harvesting crops. He was acclaimed as the second African American to receive a United States patent. It is believed he was freeborn and this facilitated his chances of securing a patent for his inventions.

Enslaved Africans were allowed to claim credit for their intellectual property at some point in history. This was however challenged by an enslaver in 1857 who said slaveholders should have rights over whatever inventions enslaved people came out with. As a result, the patent laws were amended to strike out enslaved people’s eligibility for patents in the United States.

The laws were amended once again in 1871 after the Civil War which enabled all men in the United States irrespective of their race to acquire patents for their inventions. Women were however denied this opportunity to claim rights to their inventions and all their works within this period did not have any protection under intellectual property laws.

Blair was born in Glen Ross, Maryland in 1807 before the Emancipation Proclamation. Not much is known about his early life and family background but accounts suggest he did not have formal education.

He follows Thomas Jennings, who was the first African American to be granted a patent. Jennings’s details indicate he received his patent in 1821 for inventing the dry scouring of clothes. There is little information on his race and family background.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 11, 2023


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