Grateful American® Foundation

Who was Henry Blair?

October 14th

440px-SeedPlanter-BlairX8447-1October 14, 1824 — Henry Blair was the first black man to obtain a US patent today — for a corn planter.

Born in Glen Ross, Maryland, United States in 1807, Blair was a successful farmer for years and a natural when it came to developing inventions to increase efficiency in farming.

He built the first seed planter, patented October 14, 1834, which allowed farmers to plant more corn using less labor in a smaller amount of time.

On August 31, 1836, he obtained a second patent for a cotton planter. This invention worked by splitting the ground with two shovel-like blades which were pulled along by a horse. A wheel-driven cylinder followed behind which dropped the seed into the newly plowed ground.

Because he never learned to read or write, Blair signed his patents with an “x”. And, at the time that his patents were granted, United States patent law allowed both freed and enslaved people to obtain patents. In 1857 this law was challenged by a slave-owner who claimed that he owned “all the fruits of the slave’s labor” including his slave’s inventions. This resulted in the change of the law in 1858 which stated that slaves were not citizens and therefore could not hold patents. After the American Civil War, in 1871, the law was changed to grant all men (but not women) patent rights.

Blair died in 1860.

Words of Wisdom

Just as an individual's ability to delay gratification at a young age is a powerful predictor of future academic and professional achievement, discipline is also central to the long-run economic health of nations.

— Peter Blair Henry, an economist and the 9th Dean of New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and William R. Berkley Professor of Economics and Business, and author of TURNAROUND: Third World Lessons for First World Growth

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