BENJAMIN BRADLEY Biography - Pioneers, Explorers & inventors


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Name: Benjamin Bradley                                                               
Benjamin Bradley was born a slave in Maryland, around 1830. At the time, it was       
against the law to teach a slave to read or write. Bradley was able to learn         
anyway, perhaps taught by his master's children. Young Bradley was also good at       
mathematics and showed a natural talent for making things.                           
As a teenager, Bradley was put to work in an office. At the age of 16, he built       
a working steam engine from pieces of scrap metal. Others were so impressed 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 for his work, but           
because he was a slave, the money went to his master. The master allowed Bradley     
to keep five dollars a month 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, Benjamin 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       
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,         
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.