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Black History Month: African American Pioneers in the Automotive Industry

  • Things To Know
  • Natasha Young
  • 4 minutes

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The auto industry we get to experience now has its strong foundation from the late 1800s and early 1900s. People who made notable contributions back then were nothing less than pioneers. Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” this is what African Americans lived by then. We have listed some of the African American pioneers in the Automotive industry honoring Black History Month.¬†

Patterson and Sons

Patterson was born in 1833 as an enslaved person on a plantation in West Virginia. He went to Ohio, where he teamed up with J.P. Lowe in 1873 to start a horse carriage factory. But Patterson’s son, Frederick, turned the business into a full-fledged car company. ¬†

Public Domain, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During its early years, the company made the Patterson-Greenfield car, which competed with the Ford T. Unfortunately, the company couldn’t withstand the great depression. But the success was a glimmer of hope for¬†other black business people. C.R. Patterson is remembered as the first African American to own a legit car company. For all that his family has done, he is someone to be honored on Black History Month.

George Washington Carver 

At his career peak, Henry Ford invited George Washington Carver to work at Ford Motors. Carver complied and went on to have a successful career inventing synthetic rubber, which helped to alleviate the rubber shortage.

via Wikimedia Commons

George Washington was the first African American student at Iowa State Agricultural College before joining Ford. Other notable breakthroughs by the scientist included different kinds of fuel, and he was the first African American to make his imprint in vehicle development. 

McKinley Thompson Jr.  

McKinley Thompson Jr. is another Ford luminary who made tremendous success among the white community of Ford Motors. Thompson Jr created some notable models then. From a young age, he was fascinated with car inventions. During World War II, however, he was forced to abandon his plans to join the Army Signal Corps and work on communication technologies.  

via Ford Archives

Thompson received a scholarship to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He then got a job at Ford’s Design Studio, where he excelled in creating futuristic models. He worked on several unique concepts, including the Gryon, Ford Bronco, and Thunderbird. McKinley Thompson Jr. had other ideas that Ford did not develop but used as the foundation for other classic automobiles.¬†

Wendell Oliver Scott 

Wendell Scott’s life may appear unusual by today’s standards. Before racing into the automotive industry, the legend sold moonshine. Wendell Scott excelled in NASCAR races, finishing in the top 10 in more than one-fifth of the races he competed in. Scott was born in the Virginia town of Danville. After serving in the Army during World War II, he learned to be an auto mechanic from his father and founded his own shop.

via NASCAR Archives & Research Center

NASCAR did not let African Americans participate then, so Scott raced on the Dixie Circuit to satisfy his thirst for speed. ¬†Scott’s strong track talents helped persuade a NASCAR steward to award him a license. He became the first African American NASCAR licensee in history at this point. Scott faced racial prejudice because he was prevented from participating in races due to the color of his skin. He tirelessly advocated for his rights, and his efforts resulted in a brilliant career for the pioneer.¬†

Richard B. Spikes 

Richard Bowie Spikes was a machinist, saloon proprietor, barber, and the creator of several historical patents. Spikes, born in 1878, was constantly on the road until he settled in California with his wife and son in the early 1900s.  

He was particularly interested in the automotive industry. Spikes patented the trolley pole stopper, a machine for testing brakes, an automotive liquid sampler, temperature check, improved gear shifting, and a brake safety device that operates automatically. 

Furthermore, while no patent has been found, Spikes is commonly credited with inventing the turn signal. Without his great mind and pioneering enthusiasm, the industry as we know it would not be the same. 

Black History Month : Black pioneers in the Automotive industry


African Americans have left their imprint on the global automotive sector, from pioneers to modern-day rebels. Black History Month is critical for reflecting on their¬†progress and reminding us of the efforts required to input and realize Martin Luther King Jr.’s and other luminaries’ ideals for the African race. It took a lot for them¬†to spread their efforts to abolish racial injustice, enhance education, and improve social status. All we experience now; we owe to such pioneers!¬†

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