Anyone who’s flown on an airplane has used them. If you’ve ever been hospitalized, you’ve put it to use several times a day during your stay. Everyone has seen them in use when watching a congressional hearing. It’s the Gong and Signal Chair and it was invented by Miriam Benjamin, the second black woman to be issued a patent.
Very little is known about this woman who was the daughter of a free African American and a white plantation owner.
We do know that Miriam attended school and eventually earned her teaching degree. She was teaching in Washington D.C. when she came up with the idea for her chair. She invented the chair so patrons in hotels, restaurants and trains could summon a waiter from their seat. But even she knew her invention had broader implications, as she stated in her patent application; ‘my invention relates to certain new and useful improvements… to be used in dining rooms, hotels…the hall of Congress of the United States, the halls of legislatures of the various states…and for the use of invalids in hospitals.’
It was Miriam’s invention that was the predecessor to the signaling system still being used by airline passengers, as well as hospital patients.
So the next time you’re flying in an airplane and are able to summon the flight attendant just by the push of a button, remember to thank a woman. Thank Miriam Benjamin.