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For those who travel via airplane, give a big thank you to the late Miriam Benjamin. In 1888, she received a patent for her invention, the “Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels, “ a precursor to the modern flight attendant signaling system.

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Benjamin was born free in Charleston, S.C. on September 16, 1861. She lived her formative years in Boston, Mass., moving to D.C. to work as a schoolteacher and government employee. Benjamin attended Howard University’s medical school first, later switching to its law school.

The invention featured a button that would buzz to alert hotel staff if a patron needed service, and the chair had a light that was activated when the button was pressed. Benjamin’s intention was to reduce wait time for attendant staff at hotels. There is some speculation, however, that Benjamin created the device for her classrooms to create order during instruction.

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Benjamin was issued the patent on July 17, 1888, becoming just the second Black woman to gain one; Sarah E. Goode was the first. Benjamin attempted to get the House of Representatives to adopt her invention, which they did , albeit with a different take on the device.

Miriam Benjamin passed in 1947.

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