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black tech legacy

Otis Boykin

Few inventors have had the lasting impact of Otis Boykin. Look around the house today and you’ll see a variety of devices that utilize components made by Boykin – including computers, radios and TV sets. Boykin’s inventions are all the more impressive when one considers he was an African American in a time of segregation and the field of electronics that was not as well-established as it is today.

Otis Boykin (1920–1982) had an incredibly diverse career. He invented a machine used to control heart pacemakers, parts for guided missiles and computers, an electronic air filter, and a cash register that thieves couldn’t break into. Boykin worked in Chicago, Illinois, and in Paris, France.

After graduating from Fisk College in 1941, he began working with the Majestic Radio and TV Corporation and eventually P.J. Nilsen Research Laboratories. Among his inventions were a wire precision resistor used in televisions, radios, IBM computers, and even in military missiles. He also invented a control unit for the pacemaker. Boykin helped improve and make everyday electronics more efficient and affordable. 

Consumer electronics manufacturers, the United States military and IBM all placed orders for the resistor. It would come to be used in household appliances, computers and guided missiles – and is still used in many of those devices to this very day. But, perhaps most importantly, a version of his resistor was used in the invention of the pacemaker. That device, which keeps the heart beating regularly through electronic pulses, has helped to extend the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals.

And Otis Boykin’s accomplishments didn’t stop there. He continued to invent throughout the duration of his life (which ended in 1982), working as a consultant for firms in America and Europe. All in all, he earned 11 patents and invented 28 different electronic devices. Some of his lesser known inventions include a burglar-proof cash register and a chemical air filter – both of which were never produced.