Five Black Innovators in Manufacturing Tech & Engineering

Celebrating Black History Month & the Innovators Who Have Shaped Our History

By | Feb 16, 2021

As we celebrate Black History Month, we salute the many past and present Black innovators who have shaped the manufacturing and material handling communities, as well as the industries that we serve. The following change-makers helped build the world we live in today, making our work at Columbus McKinnon possible.


”We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.”

By Yvette Clarke


Dr. Wanda Austin | Aerospace

Born September 8, 1954

Dr. Wanda M. Austin is an American businesswoman who is internationally recognized for her work in aerospace and systems engineering. Dr. Austin has transformed the US aerospace industry as we know it, ensuring national security within our space programs. 

After graduating from the University of Southern California with a doctorate in systems engineering, Dr. Austin became a Senior Vice President of the Aerospace Corporation in 2001, working on research and development for current and future space programs. In 2008 she became the President and CEO of Aerospace Corporation, serving on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology from 2009 until 2017. 

Today, Dr. Austin works to inspire the next generation of STEM disciplines. She is a co-founder of MakingSpace, Inc., a systems engineering and leadership development consultant, and motivational speaker. Dr. Austin is also a member of the Defense Science Board and the NASA Advisory Council. 


Mark Dean | Computer Pioneer & Engineer

Born March 2, 1957

Mark Dean is a computer pioneer and an engineer credited with some of IBM's most significant contributions to the world of computer development. Mark began his career at IBM as an engineer after graduating from the University of Tennessee where he graduated top of his class with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. 

An esteemed Engineer, IBM Fellow, and Inventor, Mark Dean has made a transformative global impact with the development of personal computers and additional innovations that shape the way we use them.  

Dean holds three of IBMs original nine patents. He is responsible for designing the Industry Standard Architecture system bus, allowing for computer plug-ins such as disk drives and printers. He laid the groundwork to develop color PC monitors and led the team that created the first gigahertz microprocessor.


Evelyn Boyd Granville | Mathematics

Born May 1, 1924

Evelyn Boyd Granville was a pioneer in her field of computing. The second black woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from an American university, Granville graduated from Yale in 1949 before joining IBM's Aviation Space and Information Systems division. She worked on various projects for the Apollo space program, including digital computer techniques. 

After IBM she continued to teach mathematics in California and Texas. When someone asked her what she thought her biggest contribution to math was she stated, “Being an African American woman, and letting people know that we have brains too.”


Victor B. Lawrence | Telecommunications

Born May 10, 1945

Victor Lawrence paved the way for global Telecommunications as we know it today. Born in 1945 in Accra, Ghana, Lawrence completed his undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees in Electrical Engineering at the University of London. 

Starting his career with Bell Laboratories in 1974, Lawrence focused on research and development for signal processing, and eventually went on to turn the internet into a global industry. His work has advanced data encoding and transmission, silicon chip design, modem technology, DSL, speech and audio coding, and digital video. 

Today, Lawrence is an Electrical Engineering professor at Stevens Institute of Technology and an advocate for Internet access in underdeveloped countries. 


Ursula Burns | Women in Business

Born September 20, 1958

In 2010, Ursula Burns became CEO of Xerox, the first Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company. She was appointed to help lead the White House National STEM program in 2009 and remained a leader of the STEM program until 2016.

Burns has been listed on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women in the World list as well as Forbes’ World 20 Most Powerful Women in Business list. She is a founding member of Change the Equation, a CEO-led non-profit program to boost STEM education, launched in 2010.

We look forward to what the future has in store as barriers continue to fall and glass ceilings begin to crack.


Resources for Year-Round Learning:

Read Books About Black History by Black Authors

Seek out and read books and articles by Black authors. From classic novels to contemporary memoirs, incorporating Black History into your reading rotation is a great way to learn throughout the year.

Watch Movies and Shows That Document the Black Experience

There are countless movies, shows, documentaries, and docuseries based on true events and Black historical figures. Most streaming platforms have pulled and highlighted influential and historical films and series, especially those created by Black directors and producers. If you need somewhere to start, you can find a full selection of Black History Month movies and where to stream them here.

Try Alexa's Black History Skill

For any Amazon Alexa users, this skill is narrated by voice talent passionate about bringing black history facts through relatable voices. Developed in partnership BlackPast ( and maintained by the Amazon Black Employee Network, this skill is a great way to get your daily dose of Black History.  

Narrators include Roger Craig, first NFL player to amass 1000 yards rushing & 1000 yards receiving in the same season/3-time Super Bowl winning San Francisco 49er great; VP of Business Development at Tibco Software.

Try phrases like:

  • "Alexa Tell Black History Facts in the 1960s"
  • "Alexa Tell Black History Facts that happened in the 19th century"
  • "Alexa Tell Black History Facts that occurred in the 1700s"


And lastly, follow and keep up on news from the organization responsible for Black History Month:

Association for the Study of African American Life and History

The Founders of Black History Month, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH®), was established on September 9, 1915 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History.

ASALH is dedicated to the promotion, research, preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of information about Black life, history, and culture to the global community.