This Day In History: February 2

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On February 2, 1897, Black inventor and businessman Alfred Cralle patents the first ice cream scoop. His popular creation is part of a surge in patents by Black inventors after the end of the Civil War.

While working as a porter at the Markell Brothers drugstore in Pittsburgh, Alfred Cralle noticed his fellow employees struggling to scoop ice cream cones for customers. Cralle decided to design a contraption to scoop ice cream easily with one hand. His invention, which he called the "ice-cream mold and disher," received a federal patent on February 2, 1897. According to his patent application, the disher  "will be extremely simple in its construction, strong, durable, effectual in its operation and comparatively inexpensive to manufacture." The Pittsburgh Press reported that Cralle's ice cream disher could scoop "40 to 50 dishes of ice cream in a minute," while avoiding "the soiling of the hands." Cralle's invention spread rapidly, helping to satisfy the nation's craving for ice cream.

Alfred Cralle was born in Kenbridge, Virginia, in 1866, shortly after the end of the Civil War. As a boy, Cralle learned the carpentry trade from his father. He moved to Washington, D.C. as a young man to enroll in the Wayland Theological Seminary, an institution founded to educate the free Black community after the Civil War. Eventually, Cralle moved to Pittsburgh, where he worked as a porter at the St. Charles Hotel and Markell Brothers drugstore. He also served as assistant manager of the city's Afro-American Financial, Accumulating, Merchandise and Business Association. He died in a car accident in 1920, at the age of 54. He was the first Black man in the city of Pittsburgh to receive his own patent.

Cralle was part of a post-war wave of Black patentees which peaked in 1899. The 14th amendment, ratified in 1868, ensured that all Black Americans had equal citizenship rights. Citizenship is required to obtain a patent. Other notable Black inventors of this period include Lewis Latimer, inventor of the carbon light bulb filament; Granville Woods, inventor of the railroad telegraph; and Madam C.J. Walker, creator of hair care products for Black women. Cralle himself was included in the first lists of Black inventors created by Patent Examiner Henry E. Baker, eventually published as The Colored Inventor: a record of 50 years in 1913.