On October 14, 1834, Henry Blair received his first patent for his invention of a corn planter. From a distance, the planter resembles a wheelbarrow with a space created to hold the seed and a rake that turns the soil over the seeds while planting.
Due to its efficiency, the corn planter assisted farmers in planting with less labor and had a higher success rate of yield. Blair received another patent for a cotton planter he invented on August 31, 1836. The cotton planter had two blades that “split the earth while a cylinder located behind the blades dispersed the seeds into the freshly ploughed grooves,” according to BlackPast. To function properly, it was drawn by a horse or other draft animal.
Farmers could also deal with sprouting weeds with the cotton planter because the blades uprooted the weeds while planting the seeds. Blair’s invention not only helped revolutionize agriculture in the 1800s, but it also increased agricultural output significantly.
Historians deduced that these inventions were the result of Blair’s own experience as a farmer looking for simple methods of planting and harvesting crops. He was honored as the second African American to receive a US patent. It is believed that he was freeborn, which aided his chances of obtaining a patent for his inventions.
At some point in history, enslaved Africans were permitted to claim credit for their intellectual property. This was challenged in 1857 by an enslaver who claimed slaveholders should have rights to any inventions made by enslaved people. As a result, the patent laws in the United States were amended to make enslaved people ineligible for patents.
Following the Civil War, the laws were amended once more in 1871, allowing all men in the United States, regardless of race, to obtain patents for their inventions. Women, on the other hand, were denied the right to claim ownership of their inventions, and all of their works during this time period were not protected by intellectual property laws.
Blair was born in Glen Ross, Maryland, before the Emancipation Proclamation, in 1807. Little is known about his early life and family background, but reports indicate he did not receive formal education.
He follows in the footsteps of Thomas Jennings, the first African American to be granted a patent. According to Jennings’ details, he received his patent in 1821 for inventing dry scouring of clothes. There is little information available about his race and family history.