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Black inventors created some of the most important tech in history, building foundations for the way we live, work, and create today. 

Cascadeo Celebrates Black Tech Inventors for Black History Month 2023

Each week this February, we celebrated the contributions of African-American inventors to the tech landscape, with four inventions that changed all our lives.

1. The Cartridge-Based Video Game

Text in image: Jerry Lawson and his team invented the first cartridge-based video game system, the Fairfield Channel F console, in 1976. Lawson was one of the first African-American engineers in the video game industry.

Released in 1976, the Fairfield Channel F system changed gaming forever by separating the game from the console, allowing home players a much wider variety of choices and paving the long road to modern game development.

Jerry Lawson, the system’s lead engineer, was one of the first Black engineers in the video game industry. A year before the Channel F, Lawson built one of the first microprocessor-driven arcade games, Demolition Derby, in his garage.

Later, he founded his own company, Videosoft, which produced pioneering Atari 2600 games like Atom Smasher and Scavenger Hunt, and which was likely the first-ever Black-owned video game company.

2. Air Conditioning

Text on image: Lewis H. Latimer patented the precursor to A/C in 1886. He was better known for his role in the development of the modern light bulb, refining the production of carbon filaments. He was also a poet, artist, and muscian—a true renaissance man. In 1886, Black inventor Lewis H. Latimer was granted a patent for his “apparatus for cooling and disinfecting, which was an early version of the evaporative cooler, which was in turn a predecessor to the modern air conditioner (and is still used in desert regions to cool homes and businesses).

As you can guess, no A/C, no servers. No servers, no modern computing. No internet. No cloud.

Latimer was also a poet (Poems of Love and Life was published in 1925), a musician, and a major figure in the evolution of electric lighting, working side-by-side with Edison himself to refine the process of manufacturing carbon filaments, making light bulbs safer and more efficient to produce.

3. The First Home Security SystemText on image: Marie Van Britton Brown patented the first CCTV system in 1969. She created it in an effort to feel safe in her Queens, NYC home. The system included multiple cameras and monitors, a remote unlocking feature, and a one-button device to summon emergency services.

Marie Van Brittan Brown, a nurse, lived in Queens with her electrician husband. Neither worked regular hours, and she felt unsafe in her neighborhood, where emergency services were slow to arrive if they showed up at all, so Mrs. Brown invented the first CCTV system for home security, which she patented in 1969.

Mrs. Brown and her husband installed the system in their own home, adding a remote unlocking feature and a call button to summon emergency services. Though the system was invented to protect people in their homes, the expense of installing it left it relegated primarily to business uses.

The system became the foundation for modern security systems, presaging Ring and other devices of its kind. Brown was recognized by the National Scientists Committee for her work, but died before she could see the $1.5 billion business her creation would generate.

4. The Landsat Digital Image Processing System and the Illusion Transmitter

Text on image: Data analyst and inventor Valerie Thomas led the team that created the digital image processing systems used to transmit images of Earth from space, as the leader of NASA's Landsat program throughout the 1970s. African American data scientist and inventor Valerie Thomas led the team that created the digital image processing systems used to transmit images of deep space, and of Earth from space, as the leader of NASA’s Landsat program in the 1970s.

Dr. Thomas also invented the illusion transmitter, a device that uses concave mirrors to create the illusion of 3D imagery, which eventually formed the basis for modern 3D movies and television screens.

A pioneer throughout her life, Dr. Thomas was one of only two women majoring in physics at HBCU Morgan State University, where she graduated with honors before going on to work at NASA.