By RON FANFAIR
Recognized among the early Black innovators and inventors, Canadian engineer, Elijah McCoy, is credited with creating the automatic lubricator for oiling steam engines for which he secured the first of his 47 patents.
American Keith Holmes, who published Black Inventors: Crafting Over 200 Years of Success, said McCoy revolutionized the railroad and machine industry with his devices that contributed to economic growth by enabling American and western countries to run their machines and factories 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“He becomes very important in history because, without his inventions, the railroad and shipping industry – as we know it today – would not be able to run continuously,” Holmes said while in Toronto last weekend for the Visions of Science’s 18th annual symposium at the University of Toronto. “There was a point of time in history when machines had to be shut down so that they could be properly lubricated. McCoy’s devices eliminated that process.”
Other Black Canadian inventors listed in Holmes’ book include Alberta’s Clarence Medley, who received a patent in 1907 for non-refillable bottles; Inventors’ Alliance of Canada (Toronto chapter) member, Marc Auguste, who received a patent three years ago for a coin and token organizing, holding and dispensing apparatus; former Canadian heavyweight boxing champion, Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, who secured a patent for a manually operated trash compactor called “The Boxer” and Harry Jerome award recipient, Dr. Jude Igwemezie, who has five patents.
Holmes said it’s important that Blacks, particularly young people, understand that people of their colour have made important and significant discoveries, innovations and inventions for which they have been richly rewarded and remunerated.
“The emphasis for our young people today is in the areas of entertainment and sports,” he said. “What has to change in terms of getting our children into the sciences is that they have to realize there is some income and revenue that can be made here too. Nobert Rillieux, whose 19th century invention revolutionized the sugar-refining industry, is worth billions of dollars and Lonnie Johnson, who invented the super soaker water gun, is worth between $250 and $300 million annually.
“That’s more than any professional sportsman or recording artist is making right now. So, besides just studying the sciences, there is an income to be made and it’s also something that you will be helping humanity with.”
The theme of this year’s event was “Unlocking the Creative Minds of Children and Youth”.
“Visions of Science believes that it’s important for all of our youth to have an opportunity to explore their greatest potential and it’s our responsibility as their role models to ensure they see the endless possibility that is the world,” said the organization’s executive director, Francis Jeffers. “Our goal and mission has always been to show young people that a career in science and technology is a goal they can achieve, and to provide the role models and images for them to see and emulate.”
In addition to Holmes, other featured guests were Dr. Francis Amara, who is an associate professor of Biochemistry and Medical Genetics at the University of Manitoba; physiologist, Dr. Naweed Syed and Sierra Leone-born musician, Freddy Will, who studied Phlebotomy at the University of Villanova.
Since its establishment in 1991, Visions of Science has collaborated with academic institutions and professional organizations in the province to run several programs, including a weekly science club, the science fiction story writing contest, science camps and a robotics club.