| Car Life
graphic with photos of automotive heroes of black history month

Ever wonder what driving would be like without turn signals or traffic lights? Well, without these great inventors, engineers, scientists, and pioneers of their field, driving wouldn’t be what it is today! In celebration of Black History Month, we want to share a few of their exciting stories with you.

George Washington Carver

You may know him as the man behind the lunchtime staple for students everywhere—the man who invented peanut butter! But, George Washington Carver’s contributions to the landscape of science and technology went much further than this salty-sweet spread.

Born a slave in Missouri during the Civil War, Carver became the first African American to earn a Bachelor of Science degree, according to History.com. A renowned botanist, he felt that plants were good for much more than food, and could even be repurposed in things like plastics, paint, and fuels. Apart from inventing hundreds of ways to use peanuts, Carver was a friend of the automobile mogul Henry T. Ford. The two worked hard to further research in the field of biofuels, and they even created a rubber substitute from goldenrod (a plant weed) during a wartime shortage in the 1940s. Tires—made out of weeds? Amazing!

Though Carver left few formulas or records for historians to reference notes, he is recognized as making substantial contributions to the biofuel industry.

Garrett Morgan

When you’re approaching an intersection and the traffic light turns yellow, you slow to a stop. Why? Because you know the light is going to turn red. The whole process doesn’t sound very exciting, but can you imagine what driving would be like if you never knew when the light was going to change from green to red? Yikes! Traffic would be a mess without the person who invented the traffic light as it exists today!

Well, you can thank Garrett Morgan for the yellow traffic signal, says History.com. Before his invention, stoplights switched unpredictably back and forth between green and red. Drivers had little time to react when the signal changed, and as you can imagine, there were plenty of collisions. While sitting in traffic behind one of these collisions, he saw the need for a “warning” position so that drivers would have time to clear the intersection. Thanks to Morgan, roads are much safer now!

Richard B. Spikes

When we get behind the wheel of a vehicle, a simple task like shifting gears is second nature. But without the contributions of Richard Spikes, shifting gears might not be so easy. He helped enhance the automatic transmission with his revolutionary patent in the 1930s, according to BlackPast.org.

Even after he was deemed legally blind later in his life, Spikes didn’t stop inventing. He created an automatic safety brake in 1962 that was eventually built into school buses nationwide. Spikes is also widely credited for patenting a turn signal system in the early 1910s, so we have him to thank when we know what other vehicles are planning to do as they turn and change lanes.

Wendell Scott

For many years, NASCAR had no Black drivers competing regularly in its Cup Series. That all changed when Wendell Scott stepped onto the scene.

Born in 1921, Scott served in World War II as a mechanic before opening an auto repair shop upon his return home. According to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Scott broke the stock car color barrier by finishing third in a local event using his old Ford, and after that day, he knew he wanted to race. Despite all the obstacles that Scott faced, he was able to win numerous short-track races before eventually making his debut in NASCAR’s premier series. The NASCAR Hall of Fame also notes “Scott ran on a shoestring budget using used cars and family as crew.” In other words, he was able to remain competitive without the resources other drivers had at their disposal. Scott’s remarkable achievements saw him posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.

Want to learn about other famous Black inventors who changed driving forever? Check out this additional blog. Know someone else who deserves a shout-out on this list? Leave a comment below!

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