Inventors and Patents From the City of Providence

Providence has a rich history of inventors and patents. These people made many innovations and shaped the city’s economy. Here are a few notable names who are from Providence. Harold Edminston Lemont, Jr., Samuel Slater, Joseph Zinno, and Betsey Metcalf Baker are just a few of the many people associated with the city.

Philip Bell Downing

The Rhode Island native Philip Bell Downing, a well-known African American, was born in Newport. His father, George T. Downing, was an abolitionist and a hotel owner. His mother was a caterer and also involved in the underground railroad. In 1890, Downing received a patent for his invention, a switch tongue.

The city of Providence has many inventors of note. Dr. Russell L. Cross, a resident of Providence, RI, was a successful manufacturer of elegant silver and gold casings for pencils. He went on to register the “Cross” trademark and later went public. His company is now the oldest manufacturer of fine writing instruments in the United States. Other notable inventors from Rhode Island include Jesse K. Park, a University of Rhode Island graduate and Cornelius S. Watson, who patented a machine that would produce envelopes.

Another Rhode Island inventor was Sarah Goode. Born into slavery in 1855, she was freed at the end of the Civil War. She later worked at a hotel in Pittsburgh, where she discovered that spoons were difficult to use. He was killed in a car accident in 1920. Two African-American women also gained patents in the city, Martha DeLeon in 1881 for a steam table, and Ellen Eglin, born in 1849, was a housekeeper and inventor of a mechanical clothes wringer.

Other African Americans who obtained patents include Garrett Morgan, an African American businessman and social activist. He was an innovator who created several products ranging from a straightening device to a new type of traffic signal. In addition to being the first African American to receive a patent, Jennings also helped abolitionist causes and funded many abolitionist causes.

Harold Edminston Lemont, Jr.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Harold Edminston Lemont, Jr., was an aeronautical engineer and pioneer of helicopter rotor systems. During his career, he developed more than 30 helicopter rotor systems, including the Reverse Velocity Rotor, which is still the fastest helicopter rotor system on the market. He is credited with the development of the modern helicopter.

Joseph Zinno

Harold Edminston Lemont Jr. graduated from Moses Brown School and Rhode Island State College, now URI, and went on to become an aeronautical engineer and an inventor. He is an active member of the Rhode Island Society of Inventors. He was the inventor of the first human-powered aircraft, and also flew in three wars.

Betsey Metcalf Baker

A Rhode Island native named Betsey Metcalf Baker was a prominent woman inventor who revolutionized the straw bonnet industry. She was born on March 29, 1786 and was a social activist. Her innovative braiding technique helped make straw bonnets inexpensive for working class women. She taught other women in the community how to make straw bonnets, which helped develop a cottage industry in Providence.

Governor John Dyer was so impressed with the story of Providence inventor Betsey Metcalf that he commissioned an oil portrait of her by the local Rhode Island artist James Sullivan Lincoln. Governor Dyer wanted everyone in the state to know her name. The portrait was hung in the governor’s office, housed in the new Providence railroad station.

Betsey Metcalf’s inventions were important to the development of Rhode Island’s technology and innovation. In 1858, the governor commissioned a portrait of her for the city’s Union Station. Today, this building houses the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Foundation, and Rhode Island Public Radio.

Another prominent Rhode Island inventor was Joanna Scott. She was born in Pawtucket. She married a man named Daniel Scott and raised five children. After the marriage, she served as chief justice of the Providence court for thirty years.

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