Brookdale students and employees came together to kick off Black History Month on Feb. 2 with the installation of a pop-up exhibit called “African American Inventors and Inventions Traveling Museum” in the Student Life Center (SLC).
Dozens of students toured the exhibit during and after College Hour, exploring a wide range of artifacts, newspaper clippings, displays and graphic art related to significant African American inventions from throughout U.S. history. All items were on loan from the Dr. William C. Davis African American History Museum in Ohio, which regularly tours the country and opens pop-up exhibits for local students, church groups and other organizations.
“People rarely think about the products and items we see every day, and who was responsible for inventing them,” said Dr. Clifton Joseph Brown, founder and president of the museum.
“I wanted people to know all that African Americans have contributed not only to America, but to the world. The items here today are not even the tip of the iceberg of all the inventions and improvements developed by African Americans. I could come to Brookdale for at least ten consecutive days and have a different exhibit each time.”
The ad-hoc museum featured dozens of items designed and improved by African Americans over the centuries, along with photos and detailed bios of prominent inventors.
Everyday necessities like the refrigerator (invented by John Standard in 1891), the traffic signal (Garrett Morgan, 1923), and the first American clock (Benjamin Banneker, 1753) were exhibited alongside a wide range of niche products like protective safely goggles (Powell Johnson, 1880), the modern fire extinguisher sprinkler system (T.J. Marshall, 1872), instant mashed potatoes (William Davis, 1959), and even the Super Soaker line of water pistols, invented by prolific inventor Lonnie Johnson in the late 1980’s.
“The Super Soaker was really invented by accident,” Brown said.
“Lonnie Johnson was working on another invention – a cooling system using water – and realized that a toy that shoots a powerful stream of water would be fun for kids. It wasn’t a quick sale, but eventually he found a company interested in his design and the rest was history. A lot of the inventions here today didn’t make any money for their inventors, but Lonnie Johnson made a lot of money off the Super Soaker.”
To date there have been more than 160 models of Super Soaker produced, earning a total of more than $1 billion in revenue.
The exhibit, hosted by Brookdale’s Office of Student Life and Activities, was installed in the SLC’s MLK Lounge, named in honor of famed civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many of the students in attendance were surprised at the endless range of contributions made by African Americans inventors to U.S. society, including products like the Electret microphone, the gas mask, the foldable chair, the ironing board and even the lunchbox.
Austin Ridoux, a second-year business administration major, said he was particularly moved by the exhibit.
“I had no idea that African Americans were responsible for inventing so many things. Even little things, like the doorstop,” said Ridoux, who also works as a Brookdale student ambassador. “It’s something that we don’t really think about, but its a huge part of history. Many of these inventors faced real adversity and overcame their obstacles. As an entrepreneur myself, that is inspiring.”
The Dr. William C. Davis African American History Museum offers a diverse range of replicas, memorabilia, photos and other multimedia materials, including exhibits centered on African American entertainers, athletes and the Bible. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out about upcoming Brookdale campus events by visiting the Student Life and Activities webpage.
Check out more photos of the pop-up museum here.
– Reporting and photos contributed by Minh Connors, college relations intern