In honor of Black History month, we are featuring some Black leaders in energy efficiency. The work of these men and women has scaffolded the energy-efficiency industry. From lightbulbs, travel efficiency, cleantech policies, and more – read about how they’ve shaped some of the most cost-effective and energy-efficient technologies available!
Dr. Robert Bullard “The father of Environmental Justice ” (1946- present)
Beginning in the 1970s, Dr. Bullard started tracing Black communities’ rate of exposure to environmental conditions and the negative health impacts that followed. He found that polluting companies had set up facilities in freed Black neighborhoods. This led to Black citizens living in areas with high pollution and poor air quality. His research helped draw the much-needed attention to get environmental protections in Black communities. Before Dr. Bullard, how racism and environmental health impacts were connected was largely uninvestigated. Environmental racism was often left out of environmental discussions. Without his extensive research and fierce political advocacy, environmental justice would not be included in today’s environmental policies as we combat the climate crisis. Read more about Dr. Bullard here.
Lewis Latimer: Father of the LED Lightbulb (1848-1928)
Lewis Latimer was an inventor and patent draftsman who is most famous for his patent on carbon filaments of the incandescent lightbulbs. (Latimer). He was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts and was one of the first major Black American inventors in his time. His career started as an assistant to Alexander Graham Bell and helped draw the blueprints for the first telephone. In 1880, he joined the U.S Electric Lighting Company, the same year Thomas Edison patented his light bulb which used a “bamboo carbon filament which burnt out rather quickly”(MIT) . During that tie, Latimer developed a new way to make carbon filaments more durable by encasing them in cardboard. His incandescent lightbulb technology became the most efficient and cost-effective on the market. Latimer went on to invent other technologies like an evaporated air conditioner and improved toilet systems for railroad cars. Although his carbon filament technology has been improved upon through the years, it is important to acknowledge Latimer’s work and how he was a pioneer in light bulb technology. Read more about Lewis Latimer and his work here.
Elijah McCoy (1844-1929)
Elijah McCoy was a 19th-century inventor who is known for inventing lubrication devices to make trains travel more efficiently. Born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada in 1844, McCoy’s family had escaped enslavement in Kentucky going to Canada via the Underground Railroad (Biography). As a child, his family returned to the United States and settled in Michigan. Growing up McCoy was interested in mechanics and traveled to Scotland as a teen to work as a mechanical engineer, where he earned his engineer certification. Unfortunately, due to racial barriers, he was unable to find solid work as an engineer. After working as an oiler for Michigan central Railroad, McCoy began studying inefficiencies in the oiling axles’ existing system. He then invented a cup that liberated the engine’s moving oars evenly and his invention allowed for trains to run for long periods of time without the need to halt for maintenance. This led to steam trains working more efficiently – saving money and energy. Read more on Elijah McCoy and his other inventions here.
Former United States Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary (1937- present)
When discussing contributions Black Americans made to making our country more energy efficient, Hazel O’Leary must be on the list. O’Leary served as the first Black American to become Energy Secretary of the United States. Her leadership led to her department taking the first steps toward making energy efficiency and renewable energy an essential aspect of America’s energy portfolio. She was the first Secretary of Energy to initiate policy changes that connected those policies to the health and quality of the environment. Under her leadership, O’Leary used her partnerships with various utility companies and non-profit organizations to mobilize the commercialization of energy-efficient appliances. Read more about the Honorable Hazel O’Leary here.