There was a time when Black people couldn’t rightfully get to develop and profit from ideas and products they invented — but that all changed, thanks to one man.
Thomas Jennings did more than just revolutionize how to clean clothes.
He helped pave the way in an area in which minorities were usually excluded: patents.
While there have been important Black inventors throughout the course of American history, they were discriminated against when it came to receiving patents for their brilliant ideas and inventions.
Patents are important because they protect inventors from those wanting to steal ideas — and they give them the right to make money off their products through sales and licensing.
Thanks to Jennings, there was a breakthrough in 1821.
Jennings invented dry cleaning, a process by which clothes and textiles are cleaned using a chemical solvent instead of water.
Another term for it is “dry scouring.”
Despite racist attempts to prevent Jennings from getting a patent, Jennings received his patent on March 3, 1821, becoming the first Black person to receive one.
It was a major victory for the Black community and for Jennings, who owned a tailoring business in New York City and spent his life advocating for civil rights and equality for African-Americans.
Jennings spent a portion of his business earnings to purchase his wife and children out of slavery.
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