In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we’re sharing five African Americans who have shaped our industry.
Elevators are a part of the average American’s daily life. We take for granted their ease and safety with every use. But without the invention by Alexander Miles, we may not truly know the convenience they bring. In 1887, Miles patented an electric mechanism that opens and closes elevator doors. Thanks to this innovation, our elevators are much safer.
Staying warm on this cold midwestern winter day? You can thank Alice Parker. In 1919, Parker improved the existing heating methods with a gas furnace solution that paved the way to our modern central heating systems. One hundred years later, the National Society of Black Physicists honored Parker, calling her heating solution a “revolutionary idea.”
Lewis Howard Latimar
Another inventor we should all be grateful for is Lewis Howard Latimar. His 1886 patent was the precursor to modern air conditioning, which he called “Apparatus for Cooling and Disinfecting.” The windows unit was designed for apartments and laid the groundwork for cooler, more comforting living in hot summer months. He is also the brains behind other inventions. Latimar improved the production method of carbon filaments in light bulbs and railroad car water-closets.
Today’s truck drivers are able to to transport more materials thanks to Frederick Jones’ invention. In 1940, he patented a portable air-cooling unit for trucks.Though it’s just one of Jones’ 61 patents, our industry benefits from this particular patent more than others. Now, we can transport items that need to be temperature-regulated along the way.
To wrap up our top five list is Adrienne Bennett, who is breaking stereotypes and opening doors for minority women in construction. Bennett was the first Black woman to receive her master plumber license in 1987. Throughout her career, she has made waves as she was often the only woman on the jobsite. Her hard work has paid off — today she is the CEO of Benkari Mechanical LLC.
These are just five people who have made an incredible impact on our industry. Their efforts have been incremental to our progress and success. But regretfully, African American construction workers continue to face unfair injustice. In a recent Construction Dive survey, More than ⅔ of African American respondents said they were the victim of a racist act on a construction site while nearly half of African American construction workers surveyed cited seeing racist graffiti at work sites. This is completely unacceptable and must be addressed. When we lift up minorities, our industry will improve as a whole.
Today, African Americans make up 12% of US workers, but only 6% of the construction industry’s workforce (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). As we all unite to further the I Build America mission of inspiring individuals to join our industry, let’s prioritize diversifying our workforce. We need creative thinkers from different backgrounds to take construction into the future.