They’re the first in the organization’s nearly 50-year history!
Engineer Marian Croak and the late ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia Bath have made history as the first two Black women inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF), NPR reports. It was created in 1973 to honor those who have made “great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible.” Despite the great efforts of the organization, it took almost five decades for them to include any Black women.
Bath passed away in 2019 at the age of 76. Her work helped advance cataract surgery, and she made history as the first Black physician to earn a medical patent. Throughout her lifetime, she would earn five patents and use her platform to advocate for public health strategies to eliminate preventable blindness in racial minorities. She also co-founding the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. Her family had long advocated for her induction, with Bath being nominated 11 times to the Hall of Fame. Finally, she is getting her just due.
“To know that my mother is part of the 2022 class of National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees is an unbelievable honor. [It is] an overdue recognition,” Dr. Eraka Bath, daughter of Dr. Patricia Bath, said.
Croak is an engineer and tech pioneer who is currently leading Google’s Research Center for Responsible AI and Human-Centered Technology. She has been interested in engineering since she was a little girl, following plumbers and engineers around the house to figure out how to fix things. During the 1990s, she began working at AT&T, working on Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP), a strategy for “converting voice data into digital signals” that can be sent through the internet instead of phone lines. Croak recalls that initially, many critics called the technology “toy-like” and thought people would have no use for it. That was until AT&T began using it for its core network.
Now, the technology has advanced the capability of audio and video conferencing, becoming essential for remote work. Croak currently holds more than 200 patents. In addition to her work in the tech sector, she has been very active in using technology to solve racial and social justice issues. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Croak created a text-to-donate system that garnered $130,000 in charitable donations and another $43 million after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. She has spearheaded efforts to bring broadband to developing countries in Asia and Africa and works with Google to encourage young women and girls to pursue careers in engineering.
Bath and Croak will join the 600 innovators already inducted into the Hall of Fame. This year’s class includes 48 women inductees and 30 Black inductees, the two trailblazers are among seven honorees announced this month. They combine with 22 others announced last year to make up the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022.
Michael Oister, CEO of the NIHF, spoke about the significance of the honor, saying, “Innovation drives the worldwide economy forward and improves our quality of life. This is especially apparent given what we have experienced over the past 18 months. It’s why at the National Inventors Hall of Fame, we are privileged to honor our country’s most significant inventors, who are giving the next generation the inspiration to innovate, create, and solve current and future problems.”
Croak says she’s honored to make history in this way and hopes to encourage other aspiring inventors.
“I find that it inspires people when they see someone who looks like themselves on some dimension, and I’m proud to offer that type of representation. People also see that I’m just a normal person like themselves, and I think that also inspires them to accomplish their goals. I want people to understand that it may be difficult but that they can overcome obstacles and that it will be so worth it,” she said.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame ceremonies will occur in Alexandria, VA, and Washington, D.C., in May 2022.
Photos Courtesy of National Inventors Hall of Fame