Black History Month’s origins date back to 1915, but February was officially recognized as Black History Month in 1976 by President Gerald Ford who called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” As a company that builds solutions around technology, I want to recognize some of the early Black tech leaders that have inspired and, in some cases, have a direct connection to the technology that we at TechFlow use today to build modernization and digital transformation solutions for our customers.
Granville Woods was a prolific inventor who held more than 50 U.S. patents, mostly centered around his work on trains and streetcars. In 1887, he invented the induction telegraph which allowed for recorded voice communication over telegraph wires. This device sped up important communications, improved the transmission quality and is credited for making travel by train significantly safer.
Katherine Johnson is perhaps one of the most recognized Black women in tech history due to her accomplishments highlighted in the film Hidden Figures. In 1953, she began working at Langley Research Center (which would become part of NASA) as a “human computer” and calculated the flight path for the first mission to space. Later, her math helped send astronauts to the moon and back.
Otis Boykin earned his first of 26 patents in 1959 for a wire precision resistor. His work on electrical resistors allowed electronic devices to be made less expensively yet with greater reliability and were incorporated into consumer goods and military equipment. Most notably, his resistor technology made the precise regulation needed for a pacemaker possible. Variations on his resistor models are still used in today’s televisions, computers, and radios.
Evelyn Boyd Granville was the second African American woman ever to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics at an American university. She is considered a pioneer in the field of computing and was instrumental in NASA’s Project Mercury missions, designing software that assisted in the analysis of satellite orbits. She made many contributions in her lifetime including teaching mathematics and computer science at the college level and advocating for STEM education.
Roy Clay Sr. is a computer scientist and often referred to as the “Godfather of Silicon Valley.” He was one of the first pioneers in the world of computer software during the late 50s and a founding member of the computer division at Hewlett-Packard (HP). In 1966 he led the team that brought the HP2116A to market, the world’s first 16-bit minicomputer and the first computer to be sold by HP.
Frank Greene was a technologist, tech business executive, and venture capitalist. He helped develop high-performance computers for the National Security Agency and in 1965, began working for Fairchild Semiconductor research and development labs where he developed an integrated circuit and a high-speed memory chip. He would later successfully lead two start-up tech companies and eventually founded New Vista Capital, a venture capital fund, which focused on supporting minority and female-led companies.
Clarence “Skip” Ellis was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in computer science. During his studies, he worked on hardware, software, and the development of the ILLIAC IV supercomputer. He had an impressive career in industry serving in positions at Bell Labs, IBM, Xerox, and more. Among many significant accomplishments, he led the group at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) that developed OfficeTalk, the first office system that used icons and Ethernet to allow people to collaborate from a distance.
Mark Dean is a prominent inventor and computer engineer. He developed the ISA bus and led the design team for making a one-gigahertz computer processor chip. Among the 20 patents in his name, he holds 3 of IBM’s original 9 patents for the personal computer. He is the first African American to become an IBM fellow which represents the highest level of technical excellence.
Wow, just reviewing the accomplishments of these exceptional tech leaders is inspiring! At TechFlow, our mindset is always forward-thinking, and these inventors/technologists certainly were looking ahead while forging ways for us to communicate, collaborate, and create faster and more effectively. I am grateful for the groundwork they laid for all of us in tech to use today to solve the problems of tomorrow. Many of the things we take for granted today were pushed and pursued by driven individuals who leaned into their work and have made a lasting impact. From all of us at TechFlow, we say “Thanks!”