The Inventors: Carruthers and Banneker

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Throughout human history, scientists and inventors have created the means for technological advances. While their areas of study were different, Benjamin Banneker and George R. Carruthers each contributed inventions that changed the scientific landscape of the United States, Banneker was an inventor, agricultural professional and abolitionist. Dr. Carruthers, an astrophysicist and inventor, opened new doors to seeing the wonders of space.

The Black Organizers, Leaders, and Doers (BOLD) Employee Resource Group at the Mental Health Center of Denver has put together a year-long initiative highlighting Black leaders, entrepreneurs, inventors, historical figures, and inspirational individuals. We invite you to join us in learning about critical people in American history, and we thank BOLD for their work in gathering this information.

Benjamin Banneker: November 9, 1731 – October 9, 1806

Born in Maryland to free parents, Benjamin Banneker never personally endured enslavement. However, as a Black man living in the 18th century United States, he was forced to live with the racist policies baked into federal and state government. As a result, he fiercely advocated for abolition of slavery throughout his life. His maternal grandmother taught him to read, which fostered a lifelong thirst for learning. Banneker was largely self-educated, teaching himself math, astronomy, engineering and agriculture, among other subjects. At 22, he invented the first striking (or chiming) clock in the United States, which continued to chime on the hour for the duration of his life. He also wrote a full series of commercially successful almanacs. Banneker corresponded with Thomas Jefferson over many years, in which he advocated for racial equality and abolition of slavery.

Banneker is best known for:

  • Creating an irrigation system to for his family’s farm at age 15
  • Leading the surveying for the nation’s capital in 1791
  • Advocacy work for racial equality and the abolition of slavery

Learn more about Benjamin Banneker:

George R. Carruthers: October 1, 1939 – December 26, 2020

Dr. George R. Carruthers changed the face of astrophysics as we know it. Born in 1939 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Dr. Carruthers showed a deep interest in space from an early age. He built his first telescope at age 10. He pursued science throughout his childhood and adolescence, leading him to earn a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and astronomy, a master’s degree in nuclear engineering, and a Ph. D. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering by 1964. Dr. Carruthers was a key player in the 1972 Apollo 16 mission to the moon. He designed and built the first observatory capable of capturing images of Earth from a celestial body. For his incredible work, former President Barack Obama awarded Dr. Carruthers the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2013.

Dr. Carruthers is best known for:

  • Inventing the ultraviolet camera, or spectrograph
  • Developing the Science and Engineers Apprentice Program
  • His 2003 induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame

Learn more about Dr. Carruthers:

Urban Intellectuals Black History Flashcards

Inspiration for these posts comes from the Urban Intellectuals Black History flashcards. If you’re interested, we encourage you to check out these cards for yourself!

Black History is American History Series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6