Butler R. Wilson, a Boston civil rights attorney, called him “one of the most skilled and well-known dentists among the younger members of the profession.” Dr. George Franklin Grant, a black dentist, was not just a successful dentist, but also an inventor. He invented and patented the oblate palate, a prosthetic device that allows people with cleft palates to talk normally.
Grant, a keen golfer, created and patented a golf tee in 1899 as a result of frustration. When playing the first stroke of a hole from the teeing ground, the golf tee is the small piece of equipment that lifts the golf ball off the ground. To put it another way, Grant’s invention gave golfers more control over their clubs, as well as the speed and direction of their drives. Despite this, it took nearly a century for the late-nineteenth-century Boston dentist, who also made history at Harvard, to be recognized for his invention.
Grant was born in 1847 in Oswego, New York, to former slaves. At the age of 15, he began an apprenticeship in dentistry with local dentist Dr. Albert Smith. Before becoming an assistant at his lab, he worked as his errand boy. Grant moved to Boston when he was 19 years old, where he worked as a dental assistant until being accepted into the new Harvard Dental School two years later.
Grant graduated with honors from Harvard Dental School in 1870, the same year that Richard Theodore Greener became the first Black graduate of Harvard College. He was the school’s second African-American graduate. Dr. Robert Tanner Freeman, who had graduated from the Dental School the previous year, was the first.
Grant was hired as the Dental School’s first Black faculty member after graduation. He spent years at the Dental School, concentrating in the treatment of patients with deformities on the roofs of their mouths. Grant made personalized implants for persons with cleft palates, according to historians, and these truly assisted people who struggled to speak and eat. He had treated 115 patients by 1889. He became well-known in the dentistry community in the United States and around the world as a result of his work, which included his distinctive oblate palate, and he eventually left Harvard to start his own practice.
In the meantime, Grant was a founder member and president of the Harvard Odontological Society, as well as the Harvard Dental Association’s President in 1881. He had fallen in love with golf during this time. Grant created a meadow course next to his country home in the Boston suburb of Arlington Heights, and he continued to play golf there even after his family moved to Beacon Hill.
According to history, he and his playing partners were among the first African-American golfers in post-Civil War America. In Boston, they were praised for the game. Grant, on the other hand, always felt that something was missing from the game, especially when it came to teeing off.
“Teeing the ball up entailed pinching damp sand to form a tee.” “Doing it 18 times a round was enough to irritate Dr. Grant, so he devised an innovation that would have an incalculable influence,” writes Ivy League’s Black History. He “developed a golf tee carved from wood and capped with gutta-percha, a latex compound used in dentistry for root canals,” according to BlackPast.
Grant earned U.S. patent No. 638,920, the world’s first invention for a golf tee, on December 12, 1899. Grant, on the other hand, never advertised his invention. He had the golf tees custom-made in his hometown and handed some to his friends and playing buddies. Many of the golf tees were left in his home after he died in 1910, according to his daughter, Frances, who shared them with Ivy League’s Black History.
However, because Grant’s idea did not reach a wider audience, he went unnoticed for decades. Dr. William Lowell, a dentist from Maplewood, New Jersey, popularized the tee in 1921 by producing the ‘reddy tee,’ which was painted red.
The United States Golf Association officially recognized Grant’s contribution to the game of golf in 1991, almost a century after his patent was issued.