David O. Russell introduced movie audiences to Joy Mangano, entrepreneur and the inventor of the Miracle Mop, with his film “Joy,” starring Jennifer Lawrence. In the same vain and in celebration of Black History Month, here are three black inventors who deserve their own biopics.
Madam CJ Walker
The former Sarah Breedlove was born in Louisiana in 1867. As a single mother living in St. Louis, Missouri working her days away, Breedlove began to lose her hair. She developed a formula that worked her, and she sold the products to other black women. From there, Breedlove created a part-time business. Her marriage to Charles Joseph “CJ” Walker, a newspaper man, proved to be a winning combination for her business goals as she spread the word about her hair remedies and products across the country. Once her daughter, Leila, graduated college, Breedlove, who transformed into Madam Walker, promoted her wares. By 1914, Walker was America’s first female millionaire by independent means.
According to Vibe, the film rights to the book, “The Road to Millions: The Life of Madam CJ Walker,” were acquired by Spirit of Life Films in 2011, but actors and a director had not been attached.
Some people are lucky to create one great product, but Garrett Morgan was intelligent enough to invent at least three. Morgan was born in Kentucky in 1877. Working as a tailor in 1909, Morgan discovered a liquid that could be used as a hair straightener. Three years later, Morgan patented a breathing device that would later be known as a gas mask. The device came in handy during a tunnel explosion under Lake Erie in 1916, prompting local and national recognition for his mask. Despite the life-saving work the gas mask had, Morgan was affected by racism as some people did not want a device invented by a black person. Morgan also invented the present-day traffic signal and sold the rights to General Electric.
His inventions may not be widely known, but his name is associated with the popular phrase “the real McCoy.” McCoy was born in Canada in 1844 and moved to Michigan following the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War. The mechanically minded McCoy invented a device for trains to cut the number of times trains had to be lubricated. The lubricating cup was a success, and rival companies tried to make their own version. However, many saw through the imitators and were asking for “the real McCoy.”
Although Elijah McCoy has not been a film subject or even a minor character, “The Real McCoy” is a 1993 film starring Kim Basinger and Val Kilmer.
If Mangano’s Miracle Mop is worthy of a biopic, then Lonnie Johnson’s Super Soaker should be next on the big screen. Born in Alabama in 1949, Johnson was already a mathematician, a nuclear scientist and a NASA worker before he created the now-popular water gun. The invention was the child of an experiment on which he was working and though of how fun it would be for kids to have a water gun that could shoot more than 8 feet of water. The Super Soaker would eventually shoot 25 feet of water. His company continues to create new toys and inventions.
For more on black inventors, visit Black Inventors Online Museum.