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The First African-American to Hold a Patent Invented ‘Dry Scouring’

Posted by Jean-Yves on Mar 4, 2019

The next time you pick up your clothes at the dry cleaner, send a thank you to the memory of Thomas Jennings. Jennings invented a process called ‘dry scouring,’ a forerunner of modern dry cleaning. He patented the process in 1821, making him likely the first black person in America to receive a patent.

Jennings was able to do this because he was born free in New York City. But for the great majority of black people in America before the Civil War, patents were unobtainable, as an enslaved person’s inventions legally belonged to his or her master.

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