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Thomas Jennings
Thomas Jennings was the first African American to receive a patent.
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~ Mary Bellis

Thomas Jennings was the first African American to receive a patent, on March 3, 1821 (U.S. patent3306x). Thomas Jennings' patent was for a dry-cleaning process called "dry scouring". The first money Thomas Jennings earned from his patent was spent on the legal fees (my polite way of saying enough money to purchase) necessary to liberate his family out of slavery and support the abolitionist cause.

Under the United States patent laws of 1793 and 1836, both slaves and freedman could patent their inventions. However, in 1857, a slave-owner named Oscar Stuart patented a "double cotton scraper" that was invented by his slave. Historical records only show the real inventor's name as being Ned. Stuart's reasoning for his actions was that, "the master is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual". In 1858, the U.S. patent office changed the patent laws, in response to the Oscar Stuart vs Ned case, in favor of Oscar Stuart. Their reasoning was that slaves were not citizens, and could not be granted patents. But surprising in 1861, the Confederate States of America passed a law granting patent rights to slaves. In 1870, the U.S.government passed a patent law giving all American men including blacks the rights to their inventions.

Thomas Jennings was born in 1791. He was 30 years old when he was granted a patent for a dry cleaning process. Thomas Jennings was a free tradesman and operated a dry cleaning business in New York City. His income went mostly to his abolitionist activities. In 1831, Thomas Jennings became assistant secretary for the First Annual Convention of the People of Color in Philadelphia, PA.

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