February is Black History Month, and we want to celebrate by highlighting America’s most notable African American leaders in the automotive industry. These icons created many automotive innovations for carriages, parts, and driving for sport. Without their marks on history, we would not be where we are today.
Charles Richard Patterson (1833 – 1910)
Born into slavery in 1833, Charles Richard Patterson, most commonly referred to as C.R. Patterson, eventually ended up in Greenfield, Ohio. He became a blacksmith and teamed up with a local carriage maker to build high-quality carriages in 1873. They named their business C.R. Patterson & Sons, and by the turn of the century, Patterson was the sole proprietor of the company. During his time, he created 28 models with 50 employees in his workforce who produced about 500 horse-drawn carriages a year before passing it on to his son. C.R. Patterson & Sons sits as the first African American founded car company, even inventing horseless carriages and eventually bus and truck manufacturing.
George Washington Carver (1864 – 1943)
Dubbed the “Black Leonardo” by Time Magazine, agricultural chemist George Washington Carver was the most notable black scientist in the 20th century. He also became the first African American student at Iowa State Agricultural College and even headed the department of agriculture at the Tuskegee Normal & Industrial Institute. In addition to these accomplishments, Carver received an invitation from lifetime friend Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company to work with him in 1942. During this time, he helped develop synthetic rubber to accommodate wartime shortages.
Garrett Morgan (1877 – 1963)
Moving to Ohio from Kentucky at only 14 years old, Garrett Morgan found work as a handyman and a sewing machine repairman. Through these experiences, he was able to gain the skills necessary to p[en his repair shop in 1907. Morgan quickly found great success as an inventor, even being able to afford his car, which was a luxury. Each day, he drove into the city, noting the ineffective traffic control measures at the major intersections. There was no warning when the signs switched from “Stop” to “Go.” Morgan came up with a traffic pole with three settings, essentially becoming today’s yellow light. He later sold his rights to General Electric for a whopping $40,000.
Wendell Scott (1921 – 1990)
Wendell Scott was a pioneer for NASCAR African American drivers. Born in Virginia, Scott learned how to be an auto mechanic from his father and eventually opened his shop. During this time, African Americans were not allowed to race in NASCAR, so he raced in the Dixie Circuit. After showing his skills on the track, he convinced a NASCAR steward to grant him a license. This license made Wendell Scott the first African American NASCAR licensee in history. After this, he became the first African American driver to win a top division NASCAR race in the Jacksonville 200. He further competed in nearly 500 Grand National races. In 2015, Scott was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame to commemorate his achievements. You can read more about his accomplishments here.
These four heroes displayed a significant level of ingeniousness and bravery to accomplish what they did, but they are far from the only African Americans to influence the automotive industry.