Eye on History ; Black Businesses Have Contributed Greatly to American Life

Article excerpt

Despite the struggles that African-Americans faced from the enslavement period to modern times, they have continued to make significant contributions in every aspect of American life. They took the little they had and went a very long way as successful men and women. Black entrepreneurs opened businesses all over the country prior to and after slavery.

In 1789, free blacks in Philadelphia ran shops throughout the city and by 1820 they owned about $250,000 worth of property. James Forten was a Philadelphia entrepreneur, and during the Revolutionary War he made his fortune as a sail maker.

In 1897, the Coleman Manufacturing Co. was established in Concord, N.C., by seven black men. The cotton mill had a work force of about 250 people. It shipped goods all over the United States and to parts of Africa and several cities in England.

Lewis Temple, who lived from 1800 to 1854, invented the whaling harpoon that became known as "Temple's Toggle." It became the standard harpoon of the whaling industry. Temple made a good living from his invention.

Black inventor Elijah J. McCoy invented a self-lubricating device that allowed small amounts of oil to drip continuously onto the moving parts of a machine while in operation. He started the McCoy Manufacturing Co. in Detroit, Mich., in the 1870s. In time, anyone who owned a self-lubricating machine bragged of having "the real McCoy." This is a popular term that we still hear today.

The ingenuity of black entrepreneurship has made its mark in Western New York as well, with men such as the late John Young. An article that appeared in The Buffalo News on Feb. 7, 1996, recalled the story of Young and his claim to the chicken wing. Young died with one regret - he did not receive the credit he felt he deserved for making the chicken wing popular in Buffalo. …