Henry Blair was the second African American to receive a patent on his invention. Blair, who was born in 1807, received his first patent on October 14, 1834, for his invention of the corn seed planter. It allowed the farmers to plant their corn much faster, and with much less labor. The machine also helped with weed control.
Little is known of the life of Henry Blair, except that he was probably a free farmer of Montgomery County, Maryland. it is assumed he was a free man since the patent would not have been approved to be in the name of a slave. Only the second African American to receive a patent, he was a forerunner of a long line of future black inventors. His invention, the corn-planting machine, was able to seed corn in a checkerboard fashion, a system which provided good weed control.
Henry Blair was the only inventor to be identified in the Patent Office records as “a colored man.” Uneducated, and unable to read or write, Henry Blair had a gift for invention and did not allow his race, lack of education or other negative factors of the time hold him back. Signing his name on Patent No. X8447 with a simple X, Henry Blair helped to improve farming and the livelihood of farmers.
An article from The Mechanics’ Magazine in 1836 carried a story of Henry Blair’s invention and stated: “A free man of color, Henry Blair by name, has invented the machine called the corn-planter, which is now exhibiting in the capital of Washington. It is described as a very simple and ingenious machine, which, as moved by a horse, opens the furrow, drops (at proper intervals, and in an exact and suitable quantity,) the corn, covers it, and levels the earth, so as, in fact, to plant the corn as rapidly as a horse can draw a plow over the ground. The inventor thinks it will save the labor of eight men. He is about to make some alterations in it to adapt it to the planting of cotton.”
Two years later, he designed a similar device suitable for planting cotton. The operation of the newly patented cotton planter was as follows:
Operation: When the horses draw the machine, the right, and left half shovels or bar shares (as the planter may choose) throws a ridge—the tongue plow makes the drill, the cylinder is revolving with the wheels, catches the seed in the holes made on its periphery as they pass through the hopper, and lets them drop into the drill, and the press cover closes the sides of the drill so as to cover the seed.
Henry Blair died in 1860 of unknown causes. For a long time, Blair was thought to be the first African American to receive a patent and is still confused today as being the first. It was later found out that actually, Thomas Jennings received a patent for his invention of the dry cleaning process in 1821.