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

© Volker Steger/Science Source

James E. West

(1931– )

Chances are that you use West's microphone every day.

Background: West was born in Farmville, Va. He enjoyed learning how things worked when he was young. West became especially interested in electricity after he was accidentally shocked when tinkering with an old radio. He studied physics at Temple University and interned at Bell Labs during his summers.

Invention: In 1957, West went to work at Bell Labs. He and fellow scientist Gerhard M. Sessler developed an inexpensive, compact, and highly sensitive microphone, which they patented in 1962. Today, 90 percent of microphones use their technology, including those in cell phones, laptops, baby monitors, and hearing aids.

Did You Know? West is a champion of science and technology education for minorities and women.