Henry Blair received his first patent on October 14, 1834 for his seed planter invention. He was the second black man to patent his own creation. The Montgomery County, Maryland native looked for ways to help corn farmers plant seeds more effectively.
Because Blair was illiterate, he could not read or write, and therefore signed his patent form with a simple letter “X.” He is the only person in the U.S. Patent office known as “Colored Man.” No other inventory in history, past or present, is identified simply by race or color.
Only two years after his invention of the corn seed planter, Blair lent his skill to the cotton industry. In 1836, he invented the cotton planter. The horse-drawn planter worked by splitting the ground with two blades that were similar to shovels. An additional piece shaped like a cylinder dropped the seeds as the apparatus moved.
Two decades after Blair had filed his two patents, jealous slave owners fought to have slaves and freed slaves banned from filing patents, claiming that their ideas were the property of the masters and as a result of the labor imposed by their masters. By 1858, a law was passed revoking citizenship of slaves, consequently banning them from filing any patents. This law stayed in place until the end of the Civil War.
Henry Blair died in 1860.