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Interacting with Black History: Inventions

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February 18, 2020

As we continue to celebrate Black History month, we look towards a new field of inspiration: inventions. Minorities often don’t receive recognition for their hard work and many were never even acknowledged before their death. In order to take these stories of influential people and make them more personal, here are some hands-on activities to help children explore products from African American inventors.

A Taste of

We have a young businessman named Alfred L. Cralle to thank for making it easier to eat one of our favorite summertime treats. He saw servers struggling to dish ice cream and invented the ice cream scoop! Mr. Cralle was born in Virginia just after the Civil War but wound up in Pittsburg with his family. Even though he was predominantly a businessman, he was the first black man to receive a patent in that city. He, sadly, never made any money from his invention even though it is so widely used and appreciated.

It’s easy, and tasty, to understand just how useful his creation was, especially to ice cream businesses, when you try to make an ice cream cone with just a spoon. For this “experiment,” buy everyone’s favorite ice cream flavor and a package of ice cream cones. Have kids make a cone using just a tablespoon then try again using an ice cream scoop.

A Joyful Noise

Many charts will list Robert F. Fleming as the inventor of the guitar in the 1800’s. That doesn’t really make sense, as forms of the instrument have been around for hundreds of years. Mr. Fleming did, however, experiment with and receive a patent for a certain type of guitar, the Euphonica. He wanted to improve the guitar’s volume and resonance, something that requires a lot of knowledge and craftsmanship.

Play around with the same ideas as Mr. Fleming using a few rubber bands and various boxes. Try to create different sounds by changing the shape or depth of the boxes or the length of the rubber band. You can use anything from plastic storage wear, cake pans, shipping boxes, or toilet paper rolls. Much like a guitar, they will need to be open on top—or at least have an opening the rubber bands can go over.

Another option is to place two pens under the rubber bands on a box and move them closer or further away from each other.

If you really want to get into the guitar building, here’s an instructional video for your kids to make their own guitar with cardboard and craft supplies.

While you’re jamming, give a thumbs up to another influential African American James West, the inventor of the microphone. Much of his original work is still being used now!

Whatever the calendar says, black history isn’t limited to the month of February. Let these amazing people continue to inspire you and your kids throughout your life.

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