February is Black History Month and to celebrate, our team is highlighting five of America’s most iconic African American figures in automotive history. From inventors to salesman to entrepreneurs, these individuals paved the way for change and influenced the automotive industry as we know it. Over the last two hundred years, automobiles have emerged, evolved and been put to the test. Without these brave men and women catalyzing change, our technology would not be where it is today.
C.R. Patterson | 1833–1910
In 1833, Charles Richard Patterson was born on a Virginia plantation into slavery and, while little is known about his time there, Patterson eventually made his way up to Greenfield, Ohio, and became a blacksmith. In 1873, Patterson joined forces with J.P. Lowe, a carriage maker in town, to form a high-quality carriage building business, C.R. Patterson & Sons. By the turn of the century, Patterson had become the sole proprietor of the business, employed an integrated workforce of about 50, listed some 28 models and would pass the business onto his son in 1910.
George Washington Carver |1864–1943
In 1942, agricultural chemist George Washington Carver received an invitation from Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company to work with him in Dearborn, Michigan. Before this monumental moment, Carver achieved success in many ways such as becoming the first African American student at Iowa State Agricultural College, heading the department of agriculture at the Tuskegee Normal & Industrial Institute and becoming one of the most respected scientists in the country after helping to resuscitate the South’s agriculture. During his time with Ford, the esteemed scientist helped develop a synthetic rubber to help compensate for wartime shortages. Carver is also known for his inventions of special plastics, postage stamp glue, an alternative form of gasoline and more than 100 other important advances.
Garrett Morgan | 1877–1963
Born in Kentucky as the seventh of 11 children, Garrett Morgan moved to Ohio at just 14 years old to look for work. Finding a job first as a handyman and then repairing sewing machines, Morgan developed the skills necessary to open his own repair shop in 1907. With some success under his belt, Morgan quickly became one of the nation’s top inventors and earned enough to purchase his own car, a luxury at the time. As he would drive in the city, Morgan noticed that, while there were manually operated traffic lights at some of the main intersections, they were ineffective as they would switch from “Stop” to “Go” with no warning. This led to Morgan’s idea for an interim warning position—what would become today’s yellow light. The signal Morgan patented was a T-shaped pole with three settings, and he would later sell the rights to his invention to General Electric for $40,000.
Richard B. Spikes |1878–1963
Richard Bowie Spikes was a mechanic, saloon keeper, barber and the inventor of several important patents throughout history. Born in 1878, Spikes was always on the move until he settled with his wife and son settled in California in the early 1900s. Here, he invented a beer-tapper, self-locking rack for billiard cues, combination milk bottle opener and cover and horizontal swinging barber’s chair. What fascinated Spikes most, however, was the automotive industry. Throughout his career, Spikes patented a trolley pole arrestor, brake testing machine, sampler and temperature check for automotive liquids, an improved gear shift and an automatic brake safety system. Additionally, while a patent has yet to be located, Spikes is widely credited with the invention of the turn signal. The industry as we know it wouldn’t be the same without his brilliant mind and innovative spirit.
Wendell Scott | 1921–1990
Our fifth automotive hero, Wendell Scott, was a trailblazer in automotive history and a catalyst for African American drivers in NASCAR races. Born in Danville, Virginia, Scott learned to be an auto mechanic from his father and opened a shop after serving in the Army during World War II. At that time, African Americans were not allowed to race in NASCAR, so Scott raced in the Dixie Circuit to satisfy his need for speed. With his impressive skills on the track, Scott convinced a NASCAR steward to grant him a license—making him the first African American NASCAR licensee in history. From there, Scott would go on to win the Jacksonville 200, becoming the first African American driver to win a NASCAR race in the top division, and then continue on to compete in 495 Grand National races. To commemorate his groundbreaking achievements, Scott was later inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015.
Over the course of history there have been many prominent figures in the automotive industry. These five African American heroes, however, showed incredible bravery and persistence as they worked to drive the industry forward, overcoming racial barriers and more. This month, as we celebrate African American History, our Caliber Collision team wants to recognize those who have impacted the industry and our teammates who always live out our Purpose—Restoring the Rhythm of Your Life®.