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The History of Black Excellence in Agriculture: Henry Blair

Author: Apeel Team

In honor of Black History Month, we’re sharing four stories of Black Americans who have gone beyond excellence, achieving the extraordinary in agriculture, science, social justice, and sustainability. Each week, members of our Black Lives Matter Taskforce here at Apeel will share an individual who has inspired them with their work. 

This week, we are spotlighting Henry Blair and his achievements in agriculture. He was chosen by Catalina Miranda, our Regulatory Affairs Coordinator here at Apeel.  

While there is very little information to be found about Henry Blair online, his story is more than worth spotlighting. Because, thanks to Henry Blair, the agricultural industry saw one of the earliest forms of revolutionary technology to change farming practices in the early 19th century. 

Born in Glen Ross, Maryland in 1807, Henry Blair became an independent farmer with his own plot of land, which motivated him to find ways in making his work, and the work of other farmers more efficient and less labor-intensive. A farmer turned engineer, Blair became the second African American in the United States to receive a patent for his invention of a corn seed planter. This enabled farmers to increase the productivity and yield of harvested corn. Following this invention, Blair went on to create a similar tool for planting cotton seeds which actually became his second patented invention. His own work created reason for innovation, which pushed the industry further and led to the advanced technology we see in the field today. 

“Although there is still much more to be discovered of Henry Blair’s life and past, I chose him because I was inspired by his ability to create tools born out of his knowledge and passion for farming. There are no historical records that suggest Blair was formally trained or educated, therefore his tenacity to engineer devices – devices that led us to where we are now with current agricultural technology – is telling of the tributes we need to dedicate to Black professionals throughout history for the contributions they’ve made and continue to make to improve our collective livelihoods and throughout the food supply chain.” – Catalina Miranda

Want to check out more historic examples of Black Excellence in science, technology, and sustainability? You can read more about Dr. Booker T Whatley, Alice Ball, and Dr. Robert Bullard on our blog.

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