Tag: Science

#SaturdayStamps: Ernest Just

Earnest Everett Just was born on August 14, 1883, in Charleston, South Carolina, to Charles Frazier and Mary Matthews Just. Known as an intelligent and inquisitive student, Just studied at Kimball Hall Academy in New Hampshire before enrolling at Dartmouth College.

It was during his university years that Just discovered an interest in biology after reading a paper on fertilization and egg development. This bright young man earned the highest grades in Greek during his freshman year, and was selected as a Rufus Choate scholar for two years. He graduated as the sole magna cum laude student in 1907, also receiving honors in botany, sociology and history.

Career Success

Just’s first job out of college was as a teacher and researcher at the traditionally all-black Howard University. Later, in 1909, he worked in research at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. Just furthered his education by obtaining a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Chicago, where he studied experimental embryology and graduated magna cum laude.

Just pioneered many areas on the physiology of development, including fertilization, experimental parthenogenesis, hydration, cell division, dehydration in living cells and ultraviolet carcinogenic radiation effects on cells.

Just also served as editor of three scholarly periodicals and, in 1915, won the NAACP’s first Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement by a black American. From 1920 to 1931, he was a Julius Rosenwald Fellow in Biology of the National Research Council—a position that provided him the chance to work in Europe when racial discrimination hindered his opportunities in the United States. During this time, Just penned many research papers, including the 1924 publication “General Cytology,” which he co-authored with respected scientists from Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the National Academy of Sciences and the Marine Biological Laboratory.

Held in high esteem within his field, notable black scientist Charles Drew called Just “a biologist of unusual skill and the greatest of our original thinkers in the field.”

Personal Life

Just married high school teacher Ethel Highwarden on June 26, 1912, and together they had three children—Margaret, Highwarden and Maribel—before divorcing in 1939. That same year, Just married Hedwig Schnetzler, a philosophy student he had met in Berlin. In 1940, the German Nazis imprisoned Just in a camp, but, with the help of his wife’s father, he was released. After making their way out of France, the couple gave birth to daughter Elisabeth.

Earnest Just died of pancreatic cancer in Washington, D.C., on October 27, 1941. He is buried at the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland.


#DiscoveryTuesday: The Elevator (Alexander Miles)

Alexander Miles of Duluth, Minnesota patented an electric elevator (U.S. pat# 371,207) on October 11, 1887. His innovation in the mechanism to open and close elevator doors greatly improved elevator safety. Miles is notable for being a black inventor and successful business person in 19th Century America.

Elevator Patent – Automatic Closing Doors

The problem with elevators at that time was that the doors of the elevator and the shaft had to be opened and closed manually. This could be done either by those riding in the elevator, or a dedicated elevator operator. People would forget to close the shaft door. As a result, there were accidents with people falling down the elevator shaft. Miles was concerned when he saw a shaft door left open when he was riding an elevator with his daughter.

Miles improved the method of the opening and closing of elevator doors and the shaft door when an elevator was not on that floor. He created an automatic mechanism that closed access to the shaft by the action of the cage moving.

His design attached a flexible belt to the elevator cage. When it went over drums positioned at the appropriate spots above and below a floor, it automated opening and closing the doors with levers and rollers.

Miles was granted a patent on this mechanism and it is still influential in elevator design today. He was not the only person to get a patent on automated elevator door systems, as John W. Meaker was granted a patent 13 years earlier.

He died in 1918 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.



#DiscoveryTuesday: Home Surveillance Cameras (Marie Van Brittan Brown)

While home security systems today are more advanced than ever, back in 1966 the idea for a home surveillance device seemed almost unthinkable. That was the year famous African-American inventor Marie Van Brittan Brown, and her partner Albert Brown, applied for an invention patent for a closed-circuit television security system – the forerunner to the modern home security system.

Brown’s system had a set of four peep holes and a camera that could slide up and down to look out each one. Anything the camera picked up would appear on a monitor. An additional feature of Brown’s invention was that a person also could unlock a door with a remote control.

A female African American inventor far ahead of her time, Marie Van Brittan Brown created an invention that was the first in a long string of home-security inventions that continue to flood the market today.


#DiscoveryTuesday: Clothes Dryer (George T. Sampson)


George T. Sampson did not invent the clothes dryer, but improved it so much so that it has been recognized as the real starting point of the modern day clothes dryer. His innovation was in designing the dryer as a frame that could be placed over a stove and easily removed when not in use. Earlier dryers that also used heat to dry clothes were called ventilators. However, these were large metal drums that had to be placed over a fire and constantly rotated. Sampson’s design did not require manual rotation or an open flame. His automatic clothes dryer was patented in 1892.

#DiscoveryTuesday: The Ironing Board (Sarah Boone)

Sarah Boone was an African-American inventor who was awarded a patent for the ironing board.

Born in the Deep South—in Summit, Pike County, Mississippi—in the 1860s or 1870s, Sarah Boone made her name by inventing the ironing board. Boone was a rarity during her time, a female African-American inventor. In her patent application, she wrote that the purpose of her invention was “to produce a cheap, simple, convenient and highly effective device, particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies’ garments.” Prior to that time, most people ironed using a board of wood rested across a pair of chairs or tables. She was living in New Haven, Connecticut, when her patent was granted in 1892. She died in 1900.


*Originally published on Biography.