In honor of Black History Month, IPWatchdog will be featuring profiles of black women inventors—some of whom are little-known and many of whom never profited from their inventions—throughout the month of February.
Judy W. Reed, one of the first recorded African American women to receive a U.S. patent (No. 305,474), is known for her invention titled “Dough Kneader and Roller”, which was granted patent protection on September 23, 1884. The invention improved upon existing dough kneaders and rollers and included a box for receiving dough and a crank that causes the dough to be drawn between corrugated rollers, whereby the dough is kneaded and rolled into a continuous sheet or ribbon.
One of the First
Reed is often credited with being the first African American woman to receive a U.S. Patent, but others believe she was the third, following Martha Jones with U.S. Patent No. 77,494 for the Improvement to the Corn Husker, Sheller in 1868 and Mary Jones De Leon with U.S. Patent No. 140,253 for a cooking apparatus in 1873. At the time of filing of Reed’s patent application, women sometimes signed documents with only initials in order to disguise their gender. Thus, it is difficult to ascertain who the very first African American woman to receive a patent was.
Little is known about Reed beyond the corners of her patent. She resided in Washington, D.C. and signed her patent application with an X-mark signature, rather than with her name or initials, indicating that she may have not been able to read or write, as was common due to racist slavery-era laws.
The Dough Kneader
Reed’s patent for the “Dough Kneader and Roller” detailed an improved design on existing dough kneaders. Reed’s invention allowed the dough to mix more evenly as it progressed through two intermeshed rollers carved with corrugated slats that acted as kneaders. The dough then passed into a covered receptacle, in the form of a continuous sheet or ribbon, to protect the dough from dust and other particles in the air.
From the Patent:
The objects of my invention are, first, to subject the mass of dough to a thorough and equable mixing and working by causing it to pass between a pair of intermeshing corrugated rollers or cylinders, which are arranged to approach or recede from each other through the agency of regulating-screws, according as the pressure on the dough is desired to be increased or diminished, and then passing it between a pair of plain rollers to roll the dough; second, to provide a covered receiver for the dough before it passes through the rolls, and a receptable for the kneaded and rolled dough; and, third, to protect the mass of dough from dust or impurities in the atmosphere throughout its working or manipulation.