African-American Firsts: Science & Medicine
Explore Biography.com's collection of African-American firsts in science and medicine, including Patricia Bath, the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first African-American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention; Daniel Hale Williams, the first person to successfully complete open heart surgery; Mary Mahoney, the first black woman to complete nurse's training; Edward Alexander Bouchet, the first African American to earn a doctorate from a U.S. university; and Sarah E. Goode, the first African-American woman to receive a United States patent, for her invention of a folding cabinet bed in 1885. Explore full biographies, photo galleries, videos and more, only at Biography.com.
Mae C. Jemison
Astronaut, Doctor, Scientist / 1956 -
On June 4, 1987, Mae C. Jemison became the first African-American woman to be admitted into the astronaut training program. After more than a year of training, Jemison became the first African-American female astronaut, and in 1992 she became the first African-American woman in space, traveling aboard the Endeavour.
Entrepreneur, Inventor, Publisher / 1877 - 1963
In 1914, entrepreneur/inventor Garrett Morgan patented a breathing device in the form of a canvas hood—a precursor to the modern gas mask. He later became renowned for using his device to save workers who were trapped in a toxic fume-filled tunnel. Morgan also invented the first automatic three-way traffic signal system, which he eventually sold to General Electric, a hair-straightening product and a revamped sewing machine. Additionally, he was the first African American to own a car in Cleveland, Ohio.
Surgeon, Philanthropist, Journalist / 1951 -
In 1987, famed African-American neurosurgeon Ben Carson led the first successful operation to separate a pair of Siamese twin infants who were joined at the back of the head. When Carson was a child, his mother required him to read two library books a week and give her written reports, even though she was barely literate. She would then take the papers and pretend to carefully review them, placing a checkmark at the top of the page to show her approval. The assignments reportedly inspired Carson’s eventual love of reading and learning.
Madam C.J. Walker
Civil Rights Activist, Entrepreneur / 1867 - 1919
Business pioneer Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, created specialized hair products for African-American hair and was the first American woman to become a millionaire through her own business. In 1913, Walker donated the largest amount of money by an African American toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA. Also a civil rights activist, in 1917, Walker was part of a delegation that traveled to the White House to petition President Woodrow Wilson to make lynching a federal crime.
Astronomer / 1731 - 1806
One of the earliest African-American scientists, Benjamin Banneker was largely self-educated in astronomy by watching the stars, and in mathematics by reading borrowed textbooks. Banneker has been credited with helping design the blueprints for Washington, D.C.
Daniel Hale Williams
Surgeon / 1856 - 1931
Daniel Hale Williams was the first person to successfully complete open heart surgery. He also opened the first medical facility to have an interracial staff, in 1893.
Got something to say?blog comments powered by Disqus
Learn more about the lives of African-Americans who have made extraordinary achievements in their fields, with our collection of Black History Groups.
Explore our curated collections of African-American figures, including:
Check out BIO’s original video series, American Freedom Stories, about the historic events of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, and the leaders and everyday heroes who fought to make racial equality a reality. Watch videos.
Flip through these photos of some of Black History's most important, controversial and inspiring figures. Check out our African-American Firsts - Athletes, Black Comedians, Million-Dollar Ideas, African-American Biopics, African-American Expats, or explore all of our Black History photos.
Celebrate the historical icons of America's black community through this interactive journey.
- Apollo Theater Interactive Tour
- Apollo Theater Timeline
- Path to Equality
- Who Am I Game
- Harlem Renaissance