African American Scientists and Inventors

This pathfinder is to aid researchers in their search for information on African American Scientists and Inventors. This is by no means a complete set of resources regarding the contributions made African Americans scientists or inventors. These resources represent sources that are easily accessible to the public in libraries and on the internet.

Search Strategies | Call Numbers | Electronic Resources | Print Resources | Almanacs, Dictionaries and Encyclopedias | Databases | Resources for the Visually Impaired | Associations | Related IPL Pathfinders

Search Strategies

As you search for information about African American scientists and inventors, you will use a variety of sources such as websites, databases and online library catalogs. You may find that only a few materials are available on a particular topic. I recommend you start with a broad topic, and then narrow to your information need. Remember, this is being shared to help others in their exploration of materials. These search terms and subject headings were a good starting point to locate the information included in this pathfinder.

These are some useful search terms:

  • African American Scientists and Inventors
  • African American Scientists
  • African American Inventors
  • Afro-American Inventors
  • Afro-American Scientists
  • Black Scientists and Inventors
  • Black Scientists
  • Black Inventors

These are useful subject headings:

  • African American History
  • African American Inventor–Biography
  • African American Scientist–Biography
  • Afro-American History
  • Afro-American Inventors–Biography
  • Afro-American Scientists–Biography
  • Scientist– United States–Biography

Call Numbers

Library of Congress
Q141-General Science-Biography
T21-T39-General Technology-History of Technology

Reference Section: E185
Junior Collection:J 608

Dewey Decimal
500-509-Natual Sciences and Mathematics-Historical, areas, person’s treatments

For print resources, the following key will tell you what type of call number of classification scheme is referred to below.

DD: Dewey Decimal
LC: Library of Congress Classification
NLS: National Library Service for the Blind and Handicapped

Electronic Resources

There are some excellent books that contain information about the contributions of African American Scientists and Inventors.

Black History Inventors – Black History Month
"Each listing has the name of the black inventor followed by the patent number(s) which is the unique number assigned to an invention when a patent is issued, the date the patent was issued, and a description of the invention as written by the inventor".

Black Inventors A-Z
The site offers a list of famous black inventors and their inventions in alphabetical order.

The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences
This site provides biographies of African American women and men who have made contributions to such areas in science, engineering and technology.

Physicists of the African Diaspora.
This site provides detailed biographical information on the contributions of African Americans in physics, computer science and mathematics.

Print Resources

These sources highlight some of the major contributions of African Americans scientists and inventors.

Gibbs, C. R. Black inventors: from Africa to America: two million years of invention and innovation. Silver Spring, Md., Three Dimensional Pub., c1995.

LC: T39.G458 1995
"This book links African American inventors with a continuing tradition of African inventiveness dating back to prehistoric times. The book presents a separate chapter with patent drawings on black women inventors in the United States."

Haber, Louis. Black Pioneers of Science and Invention. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, c1970.
LC: Q141.H2
"Traces the lives of fourteen black scientists and inventors who have made significant contributions in the various fields of science and industry."

Hornsby, Alton. Chronology of African-American history: significant events and people from 1619 to the present. Detroit, Gale Research, c1991.
LC: E185.H64 1991

This book recognizes the contributions of African American from 1619 to the present.

Jenkins, Edward S. To fathom more: African American scientists and inventors. Lanham, Md., University Press of America, c1996.
LC: Q141.J46 1996
"This text contains chapters which discuss various contributions to science and invention by African Americans. It features figures such as Benjamin Banneker, the 18th-century astronomer and Charles Turner, the pioneer entomologist".

Kessler, James H. Distinguished African American scientists of the 20 th century. Phoenix, Ariz., Oryx Press, c1996.
LC: Q141.D535 1996
"This unique resource goes beyond the headlines in chronicling not just the scientific achievements but also the lives of 100 remarkable men and women. Each biography provides an absorbing account of the scientist’s struggles, which often included overcoming prejudice, as they pursued their educational and professional goals".

Krapp, Kristine M. (editor). Notable Black American scientists. Detroit, Gale Research, c1999.
LC: Q141.N726 1999

Profiles approximately 250 black Americans who have made contributions to the sciences, including inventors, researchers, award winners, and educators.

Sullivan, Otha R. African American inventors. New York, Wiley, c1998.
DD: J 609.2 SUL
This book profiles the lives of twenty-five African American inventors who made significant scientific contributions from the eighteenth century to modern times.

Sullivan, Otha R. African American women scientists and inventors. New York, Wiley, c2002.

DD: J 608.996 SUL
This book contains the profiles of 26 women which describes the subject’s background and achievements, and, in some cases, the obstacles that they had to overcome.

Warren, Wini. Black women scientists in the United States. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, c1999.
LC: Q141.W367 1999
"This original reference guide includes biographies of more than 100 Black women scientists in fields from anatomy and mathematics to psychology and zoology".

Almanacs, Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

The following almanacs, biographical dictionaries, encyclopedias may assist you in beginning your research.

Jackson, Andrew P. and Brigham Narins. 8 th Ed. The African-American Almanac. Detroit, Gale Research, c2000.
LC: E185.5.A253
This book is a continuation of The Negro Almanac. It provides a range of historical and current information on African American history society and culture.

Kranz, Rachel E. The Biographical Dictionary of Black Americans. Facts on File, c1992.
LC: E185.96.K73 1992
"This publication comprises short sketches of the lives of Afro-Americans who made significant contributions in the arts, politics, sports, and religion, among other fields".

Logan, Rayford W. and Michael R. Winston. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. W. W. Norton & Company, c1982.

LC: E185.96.D53 1982
"This text provides biographical information on African Americans of historical significance that died prior to 1970".

Williams, Michael, (ed). The African-American Encyclopedia. New York, Marshall Cavendish, c1993.
LC: E185.A253 1993
This publication chronicles the lives of five hundred African-American women, living and dead.


Access to the services of the database below requires a username and password. Please ask a librarian at your local library for the access code. It is important to note that not all libraries subscribe to this particular database. Please ask the librarian to refer you to similar databases.

You may also have access to this or other similar databases through your local library’s website. Be sure to check there or ask your local librarian to find out.

African American Biographical Database (AABD)
This database provides access to a compilation of the biographies of thousands of African Americans. It contains extended narratives of both the famous and the everyday person, including African-American activists, athletes, business people, educators, lawyers, physicians, scientists, and writers.

Resources for the Visually Impaired

These sites below provide access to resources about African American Scientist and Inventors for individual with disabilities such as visual impairment. Their collection includes learning tools such as e-books, talking books and cassette books. Any person wishing to use the resources on the Florida Braille Talking Book and RFB&D sites must first pay a fee to have them delivered to your home. The National Library Service site identifies the location where patrons may access the resources for free. The most useful search terms included African American, Inventors and Scientists.

Florida Braille and Talking Book Libraries


"This collection serves more than 39,000 Florida residents who cannot use standard print reading materials as the result of a visual, physical, or reading disability".

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)


"Through a national network of cooperating libraries, NLS administers a free library program of Braille and audio materials circulated to eligible borrowers in the United States by postage-free mail".

Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D)


"With titles available in every subject area and grade level from kindergarten through graduate studies, RFB&D’s digitally recorded textbooks are effective learning tools for students challenged by the printed page".


Aliki. A weed is a flower: the life of George Washington Carver.
LC: S417.C3 A65 1988
NLS: F-BPH (CBF 1542) -audio version
NLS: F-BPH (FBC 017) – Braille version

"Brief text and pictures present the life of the man, born a slave, who became a scientist and devoted his entire life to helping the South improve its agriculture".

Berstein, Leonard. African and African American Women of Science. Peoples Pub. Group, c1998.
DD: 509.2/2 B 21
LC: Q130.B46 1998

This book highlights the important contributions of African American women to the field of science.

Hayden, Robert. C. Eight Black American Inventors. (sound recording), Washington D.C., DBPH.

LC: E185.8 .H35
NLD: RD 06358 – audio version

"Biographical sketches of eight black men who made important technological contributions".

Mitchell, Barbara. Shoes for everyone: a story about Jan Matzeliger. (Braille), Washington, D.C.: NLS, 1987

LC: TS990.M335 M58 1986
NLS: BR 06843 – Braille version
NLS: Sdl (516) BR – computer coded Braille version

"Born of a black mother in 1852 but raised by his Dutch father and aunt, young Jan Matzeliger left his home in South America as a sailor, bound for a new life. But in 1880 it was Jan Matzeliger who invented the shoe-lasting machine in Lynn, Massachusetts, thereby revolutionizing the shoe industry".

Towle, Wendy. The real McCoy: the life of an African-American inventor.

DD: j608
LC: T40.M43 T68 1993
NLS: RC 37158 – sound recording

"Elijah McCoy was born in Canada in 1844 to parents who had escaped slavery in the United States. He patented more than fifty inventions".


These are important associations geared towards African American scientists.

African Scientific Institute (ASI)
"The African Scientific Institute (ASI) is a non-profit tax-exempt corporation representing a network of scientists, engineers, technologists, and health professionals, as well as young people aspiring to enter the world of science and technology".

Related IPL Subject Collections Resources

These are also resources located in the Internet Public Library (https://www.ipl.org) that contain information similar to the African American Scientists and Inventors pathfinder.

Here is a great place to start looking for this information in the IPL.

IPL Subject Collections — Reference — Biographies — Scientists and Inventors

Here are some of the great resources that you will also find in the IPL.

African American History
"This site on African-American history contains the text of significant speeches. There’s also biographical information about famous African-Americans".

Index of African-American Women Scientists

"The Index of African American Scientists is a sub-collection of "The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences,"resource. The index is broken down into the different science research areas. Typically, each profile includes a photo, bibliographic information, and links to other web sources".

The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences
"This helpful site contains profiles of past and present African American men and women scientists in the fields of science and engineering. The areas of biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, medicine, and general inventors are just some of the fields of study included. This site contains biographies, photographs, and bibliography lists may be helpful for further research".

This pathfinder was created by Melony Washington for LIS5916, Virtual Reference Environments, Dr. Lorri Mon, Florida State University, Fall 2007.