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A Slave Bradley Helped Set Up Scientific Experiments.In The 1840s He Developed a Steam Engine For a War Ship.

Posted by The Reunion Black Family on February 26, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Benjamin Bradley Born: 1830.A slave, Bradley worked at a printing office and later at the Annapolis Naval Academy, where he helped set up scientific experiments. In the 1840s he developed a steam engine for a war ship. Because he was not a free man he was unable to patent his work, he sold it and with the proceeds purchased his freedom. Benjamin Bradley was born around 1830 as a slave in Maryland. He was able to read and write, although at the time it was illegal for a slave to do so (he likely learned from the Master's children). He was put to work in a printing office and at the age of 16 began working with scrap he found, modeling it into a small ship. Eventually, with an intuitiveness that seemed far beyond him, he improved on his creation until he had built a working steam engine, made from a piece of a gun-barrel, pewter, pieces of round steel and some nearby junk. Those around him were so astounded by his high level of intelligence that he was placed in a new job, this time at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.


Benjamin Bradley was born a slave in Maryland, around 1830. At that time, it was against the law to teach a slave how to read or write. Bradley was able to learn anyway, from his master's children. Bradley was also good at mathematics and showed a natural talent for making things.

When Bradley became a teenager, he was put to work at an office. He built a working steam engine from pieces of scrap metal. Others were so evolved with Bradley's mechanical skills that he was given a job that made better use of his talents. His new job was as an assistant in the science department at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There, Bradley set up and helped conduct experiments. Professors at the Naval Academy were impressed with Bradley. They said he was smart and a quick learner, and did not make mistakes when he prepared experiments in the laboratory. Bradley was paid in full for his work, but because he was a slave, the money he had made had to go to his master. The master allowed Bradley to keep five dollars a month just for himself.

Bradley had not forgotten his work with steam engines. He saved the money he earned, and sold his original model engine to a student at the Academy. Bradley then used his savings to develop and build an engine large enough to run the first steam-powered warship.

Because he was a slave, Bradley was not allowed to get a patent for the engine he developed. He was, however, able to sell the engine and keep the money. He used that money to buy his freedom. He lived the rest of his life as a free man.

Benjamin Bradley's name appears in few books, perhaps because he was not able to get a patent for his work. Just as there was disagreement over the issue of slavery, there was also disagreement over whether a slave should be allowed to hold a patent.

Some people said anyone who came up with an original idea should be allowed to patent it. It should not matter whether that person was free or a slave. Others said that, because he, a slave, was his or her master's property, anything that a slave produced, including ideas, belonged to the master as well.

In 1857, however, a slave owner named Oscar Stewart applied for a patent on something one of his slaves had invented. Stewart argued that he owned all the results of his slave's labor, whether that work had been manual. Despite the laws, the Patent Office agreed. The patent was granted, giving Stewart credit for the invention. The slave who actually came up with the idea (a cotton-processing device) is mentioned in the patent only as "Ned."

Because of the decision in the Stewart case, the patent law was changed to say that a slave could not hold a patent. When the Confederate States broke away from the United States in 1861, the Confederate government surprised many people by once again allowing slaves to hold patents. After the Civil War, however, the patent law was changed again, specifying that all people throughout the United States had the right to patent their own inventions.

Benjamin Bradley's date of death was unknown.

Categories: Africa, United State, Black Inventors

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1 Comment

Reply Drhiya
10:39 AM on February 13, 2017 
Love this Picture