Alexander Miles
  Elijah McCoy
  Lewis Latimer
  Jan Ernst Matzeliger
  Granville T. Woods
  George Washington Carver
  Madam C. J. Walker
  Garrett Morgan
  Dr. Charles Richard Drew
  Otis Boykin
  James E. West
  Dr. Patricia Bath
  Lonnie G. Johnson
  Mark Dean

Famous African American Inventors

© Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture/NYPL/Science Source

Alexander Miles

(Late 1830s–1918)

Miles's automatic elevator doors dramatically improved passenger safety.

Background: Miles's exact birthplace and birthdate are unknown. He was living in Duluth, Minn., when he came up with his famous invention.

Invention: Early elevators were different from the mostly automated devices we're familiar with today. Passengers had to manually open and close the elevator doors, as well as the door leading to the elevator shaft. If anyone forgot to close the shaft door, other passengers could fall down the shaft when expecting to step into the elevator. Miles invented a mechanism that triggered the shaft doors to open and close along with the elevator doors, making the ride safer.

Did You Know? The elevators we ride today still feature automatic shaft doors similar to the invention Miles patented in 1887.