Black History Month – Thomas L. Jennings

The Intellectual Revolution presents…

Thomas L. Jennings (1791–1856) was the first African-American to  be granted a patent, March 03, 1821 (U.S. patent 3306x).  Jennings’ patent was for a dry cleaning process called “dry scouring”, which would go on to make modern-day dry cleaning possible. In his early 20s he became a tailor but then opened a dry cleaning business in New York City.  While running his business Jennings developed dry-scouring and patented the process at age 30.

The patent to Jennings generated considerable controversy during this period.  Slaves at this time could not patent their own inventions. This regulation dated back to the U.S. patent laws of 1793.  The regulation was based on the legal presumption that “the master is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual.” Patent courts also held that slaves were not citizens and could not own rights to their inventions.  Thomas Jennings, however, was a born a free man and thus was able to gain exclusive rights to his invention and profit from it.

He spent his early earnings on legal fees to purchase his family out of slavery, and much of the remaining portion of his income went to supporting the abolitionist movement. Jennings was also a skilled tradesmen, which aided him in running a successful business, and an abolitionist. In 1861 patent rights were finally extended to slaves, 5 years after Jennings’ death.

- Supreme Soul

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7 Responses to Black History Month – Thomas L. Jennings

  1. Veerle Poupeye says:

    The photograph used to accompany this post is in Jamaica known as a photograph of Paul Bogle, the leader of the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion and now a National Hero. Some doubt has been raised recently about the authenticity of the photo (i.e. whether it is actually of Bogle or someone else, perhaps Mr Jennings) and I am therefore very interested to know the image source for this article. Any light you could shed on this would be much appreciated.

    • Supreme Soul says:

      Image was found on several websites, such as, riseandgrind.com, blacktalkradionetwork.com, and blackhistory.com. Not sure of it’s authenticity beyond that or whether it is indeed Mr. Bogle, but if you happen to find out more info on the true origins of it please enlighten me as well. Thanks

  2. Veerle Poupeye says:

    Thanks much – will let you know if we find more. You may find the following links interesting: http://thebitterbean.wordpress.com/2012/02/25/paul-bogle-from-stony-gut-to-contested-identity/ and http://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/tag/paul-bogle/. The photograph appears to have been a tintype, which was only patented in the US in 1856, the year Thomas Jennings died. Mr Jennings was in his mid 60s then and the man in the photo looks much younger, so likely the photo is not Mr Jennings.

  3. The painting of Kanye symbolizes angst stricken torment to me. I see a man who was sold away from the plantation to which his family was held, to be estranged from the ones he loves while awaiting a new chaos system. He looks stoic, pensive, yet contemplative, perhaps of his own demise as if he is seeing a premontion of his fate and is stilled by his inability to alter the meloncholy of his destiny.

  4. Andrew foster says:

    the attached picture is of Paul Bogle. Not Mr. Jennings. mr. Paul bogles descendant lived in East kingston jamaica up untill the 1970′s. this fact i know as i attended school with some of his greatgrand sons in 1974 @ Norman Gardens All Age in Kigston 2. the lokk just like him. plus he has a great greatgrand daughter in london England a very famous lovers rock singer Ms. Janet Kay (bogle). hope this helps

  5. Simone says:

    This image should be removed from this website, then.
    We salute you, Misters Bogle (pictured above) and Jennings; you both are our heroes!

  6. Supreme Soul says:

    Since you all made quite the compelling argument that the photo was not Mr. Jennings I have removed it. Thanks for reading and educating me and fellow readers.

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