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Shelby Davidson, Inventor: In His Own Words
By Joellen ElBashir  

    The Papers of Shelby J. Davidson (1868 - 1931), inventor, lawyer and civil servant, bring to light an engaging story of one manís ingenuity and inventiveness, perseverance and disappointment, and betrayal and rebirth. The Davidson Papers, comprising one linear ft. of materials, are part of the holdings of the Manuscript Division of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. Though a small collection, the sketches and patent documents related to his inventions, the biographical information, correspondence, organizational materials and photographs speak volumes about Davidsonís life and career. They give life to the sometimes sterile lists of Black inventors and inventions so widely available on the Internet and in popular literature these days. The documents themselves describe Davidsonís work, his inventions, and his struggle to get his contributions recognized.

      Shelby J. Davidson was born in Lexington, Kentucky. He attended Howard University from 1887 to 1893, earning the A.B. degree. He also read law from 1893 to 1896 under the direction of Colonel William A. Cook, a Washington, D.C., attorney. During the same period, Davidson began a nineteen-year career in the Office of the Auditor for the Post Office Department in the U.S. Department of the Treasury. He worked his way up from laborer to messenger to money order assorter, and, finally, to clerk of the highest grade level ($1600 annually). His requests for further advancement, however, were denied in spite of promises of promotion (Davidson Papers, 25-1, folder 14). After protesting to the Assistant U.S. Attorney General, to no avail, Davidson retired from the federal government in 1912, and embarked on a more promising career as lawyer and realtor.

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February 2001