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Profile of Henry Edwin Baker, 1859-1928
By Donna M. Wells


“If inventions therefore have played the important part here assigned to them in the gradual development of our complex national life, it becomes important to know what contribution the American Negro has made to the inventive skill of this country.”[1]

           Henry Edwin Baker was born in 1859 in Columbus, Mississippi where he attended public schools.  In 1875, at the age of 16, he was one of three Black men appointed as cadet midshipmen to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis where he studied for two years.  Baker remained in the Washington area and in 1879; he entered Howard University’s law school and graduated at the top of his class in 1881.  He completed post-graduate studies in the law program in 1883.  In 1893, Baker married Violetta Clark and they lived near the Howard University campus.             

           [1]In some of his writings, Baker provides accounts of the earliest known inventions by African Americans and also describes the first efforts to identify inventors by race.  This quote is from his 1902 article, “The Negro as an inventor,” which is in  D. W. Culp’s Twentieth Century Negro Literature (Toronto, Canada: J. L. Nichols & Co., 1902), 399.  In this article, Baker provides a list of the African American inventors that had been identified for an exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1900.


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Month 2001