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PHOTO ESSAY

African Americans in Science and Technology

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Article on Samuel R. Scottron from the Cleveland Gazette, 4 June 1887.

Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society

Self-made, enterprising, and doggedly patient, Samuel R. Scottron was the very embodiment of the Booker T. Washington ethos. After a stint as the sutler for a black Union regiment in 1863 nearly bankrupted him, Scottron, who was born in Philadelphia in 1841, moved to Springfield, Massachusetts to work as a barber. It was there he received his first patent (no. #76,253), awarded for an adjustable mirror in 1868; the idea took hold after observing the difficulty his customers had in viewing the sides and backs of their heads. The demand for his mirror was great enough that Scotttron moved to New York City two years later to manufacture them full-time. (To this day, a “Scottron Mirror” is a particularly coveted antique mirror). An outspoken advocate of trade education, Scottron enrolled in Cooper Union in 1873, graduating with an engineering degree in 1878. He would go on to patent over half-a-dozen other items, including the adjustable curtain rod, the pole tip, and an improved window cornice. Scottron is somewhat unique among early American inventors—and African American ones especially—in that he was able to substantially profit from his own ideas.

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