13 Black Entrepreneurs Throughout History That You Should Know About

By iammaliatyler, Blavity

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

Out of all of the History classes that you’ve taken during your educational journey, which prominent black figures would you say most instructors labeled as the representatives for our culture/race? I don’t know about y’all but from elementary school until about my freshman year in college the focus of my lectures were primarily on black figures such as Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Frederick Douglas.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the work of these four individuals helped to advance us as a people, but what about the hundreds if not thousands of other black leaders who may not have risen to fame, but definitely planted the seed that afforded us some of the opportunities that we now have today?

Beyond gaining attention in the political sphere, our ancestors were also innovators, and entrepreneurs creating a path when there wasn’t one and providing numerous jobs for members of our community.

I’m sure that we have all heard of Madame C.J. Walker.

But, are you familiar with these 13 game changers who developed ground-breaking inventions/businesses that represent the true meaning of #blackexcellence?

1. Maggie Lena Walker


The first African-American woman in the U.S. to charter a bank: St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. And, she was also a champion of women and African-American rights as she held numerous high-ranking positions in organization’s such as the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), just to name a few.

2. Frederick Patterson & Charles Richard Patterson


The first African-American to manufacture cars.  He and his father Charles Richard Patterson co-founded what was known as C.R. Patterson and Son Company, a carriage service. The brand later evolved into the “Patterson-Greenfield” car that rivaled Henry Fords’ “Model T.”

3. Annie Malone


One of the first black female millionaire’s, prominent businesswoman, philanthropist and entrepreneur.  She founded “Poro College,” which was a commercial and educational business that was designed to teach African-American women about cosmetics. She also developed a chemical straightener that prevented damage to the hair and scalp.

4. Charles Clinton Spaulding, Aaron McDuffie Moore, John Merrick

The three founders of the first and largest life insurance firm: North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company.  They were among the black leaders flourishing in Durham, N.C., making up what was known as the “Black Wall Street.”

5. Clara Brown

An ex-slave who found her talents in entrepreneurship as she led a successful laundry business that afforded her the capital and opportunity to invest in various real estate ventures in Colorado. It is said that she owned 16 lots in Denver, and seven houses in Central City.

6. Benjamin Banneker


The architect/brain behind America’s first clock that “struck the hour,” for over 20 years. He also is the mathematician behind the accurate prediction of the solar eclipse that occurred in the year 1789.

7. George Thomas Downing

The young restaurateur owned a successful dining space called the “Sea-Girt Luxury Hotel,” and also managed the U.S. House of Representatives’ dining room in Washington, D.C. His role as the manager, afforded him close contact with politicians of the Antebellum period that ultimately helped in his efforts of lobbying for the desegregation of Newport, Va schools in 1865.

8. Sarah E. Goode

The first black woman to win a U.S. patent, for her invention of the “foldaway bed.” Goode and her husband Archibald led a thriving custom furniture business in Chicago.

9. Granville T. Woods

Referred to as the “Black Edison,” Woods invented the railroad telegraph, and also founded his own company in Cincinnati, called “Woods Electric Company.” In his lifetime he received close to 60 patents and invented 15 different appliances for electric railways.

10. Garrett Morgan

The innovator who invented the gas mask, three-way traffic light, received a patent to improve the sewing machine and created the first chemical hair straightener.  Morgan had his hands in a little bit of everything!

11. Earl G. Graves Sr.

The man who founded Black Enterprise magazine, the “premier business, investing, and wealth-building resource for African-Americans.” He was also appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the Presidential Commission for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, among other accolades.

12. Reginald F. Lewis

Most notably known as the first African-American business owner to build a billion dollar company, Beatrice Foods, Lewis was also a Harvard Law graduate and very successful finance executive.

13. John H. Johnson

The founder of the largest black-owned publishing company in the U.S., Johnson has produced brands such as: Negro’s Digest, Jet, and Ebony, giving black people a voice when they were silenced in mainstream media at the time. He also was the first African-American to appear in Forbes’ 400 wealthiest American’s list.

What other black entrepreneurs throughout history do you know that paved the way for more innovation in our community and in the country?

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