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BLKISH Forums African-American Inventors and Scientists Gong and Signal Chair | Miriam Benjamin (Inventor)


  • Gong and Signal Chair | Miriam Benjamin (Inventor)


    November 1, 2020 at 12:02 pm

    Miriam E. Benjamin (September 16, 1861 – 1947) was an American school teacher and inventor. On July 17,[1] 1888 she obtained a patent for her invention, the Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels. As its name suggests, the chair had both a gong and signal connected to it.[2] The chair would “reduce the expenses of hotels by decreasing the number of waiters and attendants, to add to the convenience and comfort of guests and to obviate the necessity of hand clapping or calling aloud to obtain the services of pages.” The chair worked when the person sitting would press a small button on the back of the chair which would then send a signal to a waiting attendant. A light would illuminate as well, allowing the attendant to see which guest needed help. The system was eventually adopted by the United States House of Representatives and was a precursor to the signaling system used on airplanes for passengers to seek assistance from flight attendants.[3]

    Gong and Signal Chair patent.gif


    Upon her move to Washington, D.C., Benjamin became a teacher in the segregated municipal school system. In 1888, she was living at 1736 New York Avenue, N.W. in Washington.[4]

    Miriam Benjamin briefly attended Howard University‘s medical school,[5] but after passing a competitive civil service examination and working as a government clerk in a number of federal departments,[6] she enrolled in the law school at Howard University. Upon graduation, she set herself up in business as a “solicitor of patents.”

    Miriam Benjamin’s career as an inventor did not end with her Gong and Signal chair. On December 4, 1917, she received U.S. patent no. 1,249,000 for her Sole for Footwear. This invention was intended to help with temperature regulation in the foot.[7]

    Music historians believe she, under the gender-neutral pseudonym E.B. Miriam, also composed marches. One of these was used by Theodore Roosevelt‘s presidential campaign in 1904.[8]

    In 1920, she returned to Boston, where she lived and worked with her brother, attorney Edgar P. Benjamin.[9] Along with Sarah BooneEllen Eglin, and Sarah E. Goode, Benjamin was one of four African American women inventors of her time who developed new technology for the home.[10]

    She died in 1947.[11]

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