Henry Blair was an African-American inventor who, with his mechanical corn planter, became only the second black man to earn a United States patent in 1834.
For many years, Blair was thought to be the first African American to acquire a patent, but it was later discovered that Thomas Jennings, the inventor of the dry-cleaning technique, received a patent in 1821. The corn planter and a mechanized cotton planter are two of Blair’s most famous inventions. Blair’s discoveries increased maize and cotton farming production.
Blair was born in 1807 in Glen Ross, Maryland. There is very little information about his early life or family. Due to his patent eligibility, Blair appears to have never been enslaved (enslaved people could not register patents with the United States government).
Blair was a commercial farmer near Glen Ross who ran his own business despite being unable to read or write. It’s also worth mentioning that Henry Blair is the sole inventor listed in the US Patent Office’s records as a “colored man.”
Blair established himself as a capable inventor after achieving success as a farmer. Blair got his patent for his mechanized corn seed planter on October 14, 1834. Blair’s corn planter resembles a wheelbarrow with a seed dispersal chamber attached to the bottom.
Rakes attached to the back of the wheelbarrow pull over the seed to cover it with soil once it has been disseminated. Blair’s corn planter allowed farmers to plant their crops more efficiently, resulting in a higher overall yield. Blair’s design was said to “save the labor of eight men,” according to an 1836 article in The Mechanics’ Magazine.
Blair received a patent for his mechanical cotton planter on August 31, 1836. The gadget is essentially a cotton-optimized version of Blair’s corn planter.
The cotton planter was similar to a wheelbarrow, except it included two blades that split the dirt and a cylinder behind the blades that disseminated the seeds into the newly plowed grooves.
In 1860, Henry Blair died in Maryland of unexplained reasons.
This piece of history was originally written on BlackPast.Org