Get to know Dr. Patricia Sluby, Co-Curator of Patented Ingenuity: The Art of African American Inventors

Dr. Sluby

Dr. Patricia Carter “Pat” Sluby is a free-lance writer, registered patent agent, certified in genealogy, lecturer on local history and on inventors, former U. S. Primary Patent Examiner, and past president of the National Intellectual Property Law Association.  Her published works include numerous national journals and newspaper articles on inventors and her own ancestors.  Dr. Sluby also has appeared on the internet, radio and TV programs.   In 1987, she published Creativity and Inventions: The Genius of Afro-Americans and Women in the United States and their Patents.  In 2004, Praeger published her next title The Genius of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity; and then in 2011, the publishers released her third book The Entrepreneurial Spirit of African American inventors.  Another work in progress includes a full biography of Dr. Sluby’s maternal great grandfather, Colonel Giles Beecher Jackson, former slave, businessman, publisher, confidant of U. S. Presidents, and first African American in 1887, allowed to practice law before the Supreme Court of the State of Virginia.

  1. Here’s an icebreaker. What is your favorite cereal?

Post Shredded wheat.

  1. Where did you grow up? How long have you lived in Prince George’s County, MD?

I was raised with three brothers in Richmond, Virginia. Our educated Christian parents were firm disciplinarians but were nurturing, loving, and encouraging, and dedicated to seeing that all the children attend college.  I have lived in Prince George’s County since 1968.

  1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How did you end up working as a United States Primary Patent Examiner?

My teachers and principals were great mentors–dedicated to the craft seeing that their charge understood the world around them and could function as responsible adults. I excelled in science and mathematics, and graduated Valedictorian of my high school class, voted the Most Inquisitive classmate. My chemistry teacher urged me not to fret over that mantle because she reassuringly said “How else can you learn if you don’t ask questions?” Therefore I was predestined to a scientific field.

My career path was altered when I met a chemistry colleague who urged me to leave the limiting advancement of laboratory work for a desk job with higher pay and promise to high salaries.  The job I had was very dangerous; explosions occurred at times when converting raw samples such as coal, wood, and shells into the carbon isotope, C-14 during an intricate chemical process.

At the cusp of the new EEO laws African Americans enjoyed the opening of employment doors in all sectors of the government. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office began hiring black patent examiners with degrees in chemistry and engineering. Through his guidance I was hired at a higher grade, and, consequently, my career path accelerated.  Often I was the only woman examiner in my chemical unit.

  1. How many books have you gotten published? What inspired you to write books about African American Inventors and their contributions?

I became intrigued with the variety of inventors from many walks of life and from various ethnic groups. Thereby, as an extracurricular project, I accrued a sizeable collection of information on African American inventors and on women inventors as well. I began publishing various articles on them in patent office journals and other mainstream publications, becoming the expert on the subject. While still employed at the USPTO I self-published my first book in 1987 on these creative talents, and after retirement published two more books–2004 and 2011– on the African American inventor and patent holder. I hold 22 registered copyrights.

  1. What would you consider to be the most important inventions created by African Americans and why?

There are so many important inventions developed by these great minds it is difficult to point out any ones in particular.  Numerous major industries have been revolutionized by their extraordinary talent beginning in the 1800s, e.g. the shoe industry because of the automatic shoe lasting machine of Jan Matzeliger or the refined sugar industry because of Norbert Rillieux’s vacuum pan sugar processing or medical advances made by Dr. Percy Julian and Dr. Louis T. Wright’s novel method for smallpox vaccination or the rail industry because of  Granville Woods’s electrical genius or new technology developed by acoustics, mechanical, aeronautical, and electrical engineers of the last thirty or more decades.  Read my books for more information.

  1. What is your favorite invention and why?

I like to talk about the extraordinary skill of an ordinary housewife–Henrietta Bradberry of Chicago.  With no technical training or special education, in 1945 during the last year of World War II she invented a torpedo discharge device capable of firing torpedoes from a subterranean fort or submarine.  Mindboggling!

  1. What was the most memorable interview that you ever conducted and why?

I have had so many memorable interviews but I especially remember the one with Mrs. Bradberry because I asked her how did she come up with her torpedo invention?  She responded, “The idea just came to me!”  This is the essence of creative brilliance–a God-given characteristic of inventors.