Thomas L. Jennings
For this month’s spotlight, we have chosen Thomas L. Jennings (1791-1859). He was the first African American person to receive a patent in the U.S. He was paving the way for future inventors of color to gain exclusive rights to their inventions. Born in 1791, Jennings lived and worked in New York City as a tailor and dry cleaner. His customers often complained of their clothes being ruined by stains, so he started experimenting with different chemicals that could protect the fabric while removing stains. He invented an early method of dry cleaning called “dry scouring” and patented it in 1821. This was four years before Paris tailor Jean Baptiste Jolly-Bellin refined his own chemical technique and established what many people claim was history’s first dry cleaning business.
People objected to an African American receiving a patent, but Jennings had a loophole: He was a free man. At the time, U.S. patent laws said that the “[slavemaster] is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual”—meaning enslaved people couldn’t legally own their ideas or inventions, but nothing was stopping Jennings. Several decades later, Congress extended patent rights to all African American individuals, both enslaved and free.
Jennings used the money from his invention to free the rest of his family and donate to abolitionist causes. In 1831, Thomas Jennings became the assistant secretary for the First Annual Convention of the People of Color in Philadelphia, PA.
Here at Ditto, we are the proud owners of 14 patents and have used proprietary technology to create a name for ourselves in the eyewear space. This month, we honor Thomas who paved the way for Black American inventors!
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
This month is Women’s History Month, celebrating the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. For this month’s spotlight, we have chosen Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also known as RBG.
RBG fought for a more fair and just society throughout her life. She helped achieve historic progress in gender equality, discrimination, and women’s rights through her arguments in landmark cases before and while on the Supreme Court.
Some of her accomplishments include serving on the law reviews of both Columbia and Harvard as a student, co-founding the first law journal in the United States devoted to gender equality issues, becoming the first woman to receive tenure at Columbia Law School, receiving the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture, receiving the Golden Plate Award of the Academy of Achievement, founding the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, and being the second woman and first Jewish woman on the Supreme court.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020. After two days at the Supreme Court Building, Ginsburg was to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. She’s the first woman in American history to receive this honor.
We chose Ruth Bader Ginsburg for this month’s spotlight because she is a feminist icon, admired and respected by many. She invented and effected change to create a better, fairer, and more just society for all. She once said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” RBG took these steps towards effecting change throughout her life.
In honor of Black History Month, we are starting a new monthly content series amplifying inventors. One of Ditto’s core values is that we are inventors. We go beyond what customers say they want to invent the future. We push what’s possible and dare to be first.
This month we are drawing inspiration from Patricia Bath, an American ophthalmologist, inventor, humanitarian, and academic who invented laser cataract surgery.
Patricia is the inventor of Patent no. 4,744,360, outlining the method of removing cataract lenses by using a laser device called the Laserphaco Probe. Patented in 1988, the probe was designed to utilize the power of a laser to quickly and painlessly vaporize cataracts from patients’ eyes. This replaced the more common method of the time, in which they would use a grinding, drill-like device to remove any afflictions. With this invention, Bath was able to restore sight to individuals who had been sight-less for over 30 years.
Patricia is a world-renowned scientist and has lectured internally and authored over 100 papers. She was a true pioneer in the industry and has many “firsts” including:
- first African-American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose.
- first woman member of the Jules Stein Eye Institute
- first woman to lead a post-graduate training program in ophthalmology
- first woman elected to the honorary staff of the UCLA Medical Center
- the first African-American person to serve as a resident in ophthalmology at New York University
- first African-American woman to serve on staff as a surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center and spent much of her career there until she retired in 1993.
Patricia holds five patents. She was also forward-thinking in her advocacy for telemedicine. At various points in her career, she served as a professor of ophthalmology at Howard University’s School of Medicine and as a professor of telemedicine and ophthalmology at St. Georges University ophthalmology training program. She supported the innovation of virtual labs, as a part of the curriculum in ophthalmology residency training programs, to provide surgeons with more realistic experience, made possible by 3D imaging. In an article written by Dr. Bath, in the Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, she had proven that with better training and supervision in residency programs, students were able to achieve better results in their surgeries, leading to greater visual acuity.
Patricia also made incredible contributions to Black and underserved communities. Based on her observations at Harlem Hospital, Bath published the first scientific paper showing the higher prevalence of blindness among Blacks. Bath also found that African American people had eight times higher prevalence of glaucoma as a cause of blindness. Based on her research, she pioneered the worldwide discipline of “community ophthalmology” in 1976 after observations of epidemics rates of preventable blindness among under-served populations in urban areas in the US as well as under-served populations in “third-world” countries. Community ophthalmology was described as a new discipline in medicine promoting eye health and blindness prevention through programs utilizing methodologies of public health, community medicine and ophthalmology to bring necessary eye care to underserved populations.
Bath’s main humanitarian efforts can be seen through her work at The American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness which she cofounded in 1976 with Alfred Cannon, an American psychiatrist and community organizer, and Aaron Ifekwunigwe, a Nigerian-born pediatrician and human rights advocate. This organization was created on the principle that “eyesight was a basic human right.” Through this organization, Bath was able to spread eye care throughout the globe by providing newborns with free eye drops, vitamins for malnourishment, and vaccinations against diseases that can cause blindness, like measles. Bath was able to spend her time as director traveling the world performing surgeries, teaching, and lecturing at colleges. Bath claims her “personal best moment” was while she was in North Africa and using keratoprosthesis, was able to restore the sight of a woman who was blind for over 30 years.
Patricia has won many awards including the 2017 Time Magazine: Firsts: Women Who Are Changing the World”. She was also recognized for her philanthropic work in the field of ophthalmology by President Barack Obama. In 2009, she was on stage with President Obama and was put on his commission for digital accessibility to blind children.
Patricia Bath is an absolute legend. Her technical breakthroughs and humanitarian impact are incredible sources of inspiration.