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These Guys Made a Big Impact in Technology

February is Black History Month

Two Major Contributors who impacted technology as we know and use it today. 


This month I will be paying tribute to some of the most influential African-American innovators in technology. 


Roy L. Clay and James Edward West. Although there are several African-Americans today who have influenced technology as we know it today, these are two guys that I feel contributed a tremendous amount to technology. 

 James Edward West, who was an electrical engineer, awarded Nine Nobel prizes for his work at Bell Laboratories in physics and chemistry. West was also known for his invention of a microphone in 1962. This device did not require a battery to operate. We all have this same microphone design in our cell phones today.

Born in 1931 in Farmville, Virginia, West was working in technology at the early age of 12, helping his cousin install wires in homes. West planned on attending medical school, but instead, he was drafted into the Korean War, where he was awarded the Purple Heart. When West returned home, he worked for Bell Labs, where he an a coworker Gerhard Sessler developed a small microphone that did not require a battery. 

This invention, called the electret microphone, replaced carbon microphones and revolutionized communication technology. His microphone is still used today in everything from hearing aids to space technology. In 1999 West was the fourth African-American to join the National Inventors Hall of Fame. West has 47 U.S. patents and more than 200 foreign patents.


Roy was dubbed the “Godfather of Silicon Vally” was best known for developing software for Hewlett Packard or HP computers for the past 50 years. Clay was born in 1929 in a small town of Kinloch, MO, and graduated from St. Louis University as one of the first African American students with a degree in Mathematics. Clay moved to Silicon Vally in the 1950s, where he started his career in Computer Science at Lawerence Livermore National Laboratory or LLNL. Although they were not hiring people of color at this time, Clay was very impressive. Clay’s work shined above others as he developed computer programs and innovative stoneware to measure how radiation would spread after an atomic explosion. 

During this time, HP took notice of Roy’s contributions and hired him as the Research and Development Computer Group. Roy’s group was asked to develop innovative computer software for 2216A (the first 16-bit computer sold by HP) in 1966. Roy’s programs where successful; in 2003, Clay was accepted into the Silicon Valley. Engineering Council Hall of Fame. Here he was honored for his pioneering accomplishments alongside Bill Hewlett and David Packard of HP.  Mr. Roy L. Clay is a beautiful example of a black history maker in technology. His knowledge and contribution to computer science will never go unrecognized. 




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