Around 1807 in Glen Ross, Maryland, a young African-American was born by the name of Henry Blair. This young man would become a local farmer and have two patents attributed to his existence. Did I mention that he was illiterate and there is no record of him ever being a slave? Let’s think about that for a moment….illiterate – yet unstoppable, when it came to creating things that made farming easier.
Henry Blair is a name that is not frequently shared, probably because there is not a lot known about him. According to research, he was born around 1804 or 1807. There are little-known facts about his parents, siblings or anything personal. This was not uncommon when it came to the African-American in those days. What is known and well documented are his contributions to horticulture despite his color or illiteracy.
Slaves could not have patents approved and records show that Mr. Blair signed his name with an ” x” when registering Patent No. X8447, also known as the corn planter. Utilizing horses, the corn planter would break the soil, drop in the seed and cover it up. This was important for farmers, as it would essentially save the work of approximately 8 men. Henry was written up in famous magazines as he showcased his invention that made farming more efficient in those days. Since slavery was winding down and free labor was becoming a thing of the past, Farmers needed all the help they could get to survive.
In 1836 a second patent was registered. Making a few alterations to the corn planter, Henry Blair developed the cotton planter. This second invention had two attributes that were needed at the time – a horse-drawn drill of sorts to plant the cotton and cover it up, as well as agitate the earth, which uprooted surrounding weeds. Existing records tell us that Mr. Blair was the second African-American to hold a United States patent – how wonderful is this?? Not one invention patented, but two!!!
Of course, there are questions that haunt his inventions, since his patent was disputed by a slave owner. If you were a slave, technically you owned nothing. Anything and all that you did became the property of the slave owner. The saving grace for Henry is that he was never registered as a slave. To this day, the two patents are still registered to Mr. Henry Blair. After the Civil War, laws changed that allowed free and enslaved men to patent their inventions….just not women.
Records indicate that Henry Blair died in 1860, illiterate but with two patents to his name. What a great lesson that reminds us to be consistent and put effort into our work to achieve the goal of success. Thank you, Henry Blair, for showing us that despite all odds, if we persist in our efforts to achieve the unthinkable, and demonstrate our knowledge, we can succeed.
The Mechanics’ Magazine, Museum, Register, Journal, and Gazette – Google Books (If you look mid-way of this page, you will find an excerpt of an article from The Mechanic’s Magazine, that shared the good news of Henry Blair’s patent)by