The Black Inventors Behind 7 Everyday Kitchen Tools
The origins of ice cream scoops, citrus juicers, and egg beaters can all be traced to 19th-century African American inventors.
March 22, 2023
A tall glass of freshly squeezed lemonade. Warm, fluffy, buttery biscuits
. A perfectly scooped ball of ice cream. These simple tasty pleasures are part of our lives thanks in large part to the ingenuity of Black inventors.
Throughout history Black innovators flexed their creativity even during times when they weren't recognized or celebrated for their achievements. Up until 1861, enslaved African Americans weren't allowed to obtain patents or claim credit for their inventions because they were considered property of their white owners.
Since enslaved Africans were tasked with the sowing, harvesting, and preparing of food for their owner’s family, it makes sense that they developed ways to make their farming and cooking responsibilities more efficient. Patent rights were finally extended to enslaved people in 1861, and by 1886, 45 patents had been issued to African American inventors
We explored the history of seven kitchen tools—the descendants of which you may have in your drawers and cupboards today—and the African American inventors behind them.
Ice Cream Scoop, Alfred L. Cralle
While working as a porter at a drugstore and hotel in Pittsburgh, Alfred L. Cralle noticed that servers had a difficult time dishing out scoops of ice cream to their customers. They used two spoons to get the ice cream onto the cone, making a mess in the process. As a result, Cralle developed a handheld tool named the ice cream mold and disher (U.S. Patent 576,395) in February 1897. It allowed servers to scoop up a perfect ball of ice cream with a single hand and dispense it without having it stick to the tool, and it’s the same mechanism we use in modern ice cream scoops.
Pastry Fork, Anna Magrin
Anna M. Mangin's design for the pastry fork (U.S. Patent 470,505) in March 1892 allowed cooks to beat eggs, mix batter for cookies and pastries, mash potatoes, stir up salad dressings, and more without using their hands to do the dirty work. The small metal tool was developed with a sharp angular end to cut ingredients as well as tines connected with crossbars and rows of oval cutouts to allow materials to freely pass through the fork. Mangin's invention sped up the food prep process and made it more sanitary because cooks didn't need to mix ingredients with their hands. In 1893, her invention was included in a small exhibition on African American inventors at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois—a moment of note as it was rare to shine a spotlight on Black inventors at the time.
Biscuit Cutter, Alexander P. Ashbourne
Say goodbye to wonky biscuits! Back in the day, the fluffy pastry was a fundamental part of many meals, and Alexander P. Ashbourne ensured that each baked batch was consistent every time. On November 30, 1875, the Philadelphia-based inventor received a patent (U.S. Patent 170,460) for a spring-loaded tool that cut the dough into a precise size and shape so the delicious biscuits would bake uniformly throughout. Ashbourne also developed a way to treat and refine coconut oil.
Mechanical Eggbeater, Willis Johnson
On February 5, 1884, Willis Johnson patented an improved mechanical eggbeater (U.S. Patent 292,821) with the intention of having the machine mix more than just eggs. With two separate chambers, Johnson's version could beat eggs in one as well as mix batter and other ingredients in the second. Or the user could clean one chamber while continuing to stir in the other. This predecessor to today's electric mixers consisted of a handle one would turn and whisk wires that would rapidly spin through a series of gears.
Fruit Press, Madeline M. Turner
After growing tired of trying to squeeze out orange juice by hand, Madeline M. Turner developed a way to easily extract nectar from a variety of citruses. With Turner’s Fruit-Press, the fruit is first pushed through an opening and from there, pulled into a cog where the piece is cut in half. Afterward, the halves are pressed between flat plates to squeeze out the juice that is then collected in a cup. Not only did she receive a patent (U.S. Patent 1,180,959) for the machine on April 25, 1916, but her invention was also displayed at the Panama-California Exhibition in San Diego, California. It was lauded for its ease of use as well as for being easy to clean. Were it not for her innovative mind—plus the modern juicers
based on her original design—the juicing industry would not be anywhere near as lucrative as it is today.
Bread Crumb Maker and Breadmaking Machine, Joseph Lee
After spending his youth working in a bakery, Joseph Lee went on to own two restaurants, a hotel, and a catering service in Boston. In 1894 he received a patent (U.S. Patent 524,042) for a breadmaking machine that automatically and uniformly mixed and kneaded the dough to yield better, faster, and cheaper bread. The mechanics in his tool are still used in today's stand mixers
. Another of his inventions was created to prevent the massive amount of food waste in his kitchens and find a way to repurpose day-old bread instead of throwing it away. His machine, a bread crumb maker (U.S. Patent 540,553), allowed cooks to mechanically tear, crumble, and grind the bread into crumbs, which were then used in other dishes. Lee patented his invention on June 4, 1895, and later sold the rights to the machine so it could be reproduced around the world. For his major contributions to the culinary world, Lee was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2019.