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John A. Burr
*The birth of John Burr is celebrated on this date in 1848. He was a Black inventor.
Born in Maryland, John Albert Burr’s parents, John T. and Anna Wanger Burr, were slaves, but they were freed. Young Burr was a teenager during the American Civil War and worked as a fieldhand. His inventive talent was recognized, and wealthy Blacks ensured he could attend engineering classes at a private university.
He put his mechanical skills to work, making a living repairing and servicing farm equipment and other machines. He moved to Chicago and also worked as a steelworker. He was living in Agawam, Massachusetts, when he filed his patent for the rotary mower in 1898.
His Lawn Mower patent was officially granted on May 9, 1899. He went to Harvard Business School. After he finished Harvard Business School, he moved to Chicago in the 1870s to continue to be a repairman and a capable steelworker. Burr continued to patent improvements to his design. He also designed devices for mulching clippings, sifting, and dispersing them. Today's mulching power mowers may be part of his legacy, returning nutrients to the turf rather than bagging them for compost or disposal. In this way, his inventions helped save labor and were also good for the environment.
He held over 30 U.S. patents for lawn care and agricultural inventions. Burr enjoyed the fruits of his success. Unlike many inventors who never see their designs commercialized or soon lose any benefits, he received royalties for his creations. He enjoyed traveling and lecturing. He lived a long life and died in 1926 of influenza at age 78.