Black Inventor Philip Downing is the reason for mailboxes and then some

by Ezekiel J. Walker
Black Inventor Philip Downing is the reason for mailboxes and then some
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Born in Providence, Rhode Island on March 22, 1857, Philip Downing would go on to live a life of creation.

The son of well-known abolitionist and business owner George T. Downing and Serena L. deGrasse, Philip Bell Downing grew up around influential leaders from birth.

His grandfather, Thomas Downing, had been born to emancipated parents in Virginia. A successful businessman, Thomas Downing played an important role in founding the United Anti-Slavery Society of the City of New York in the mid-1830s. And Phillip was there the whole time soaking up game.

phillip downing

Black creativity is in everything.

One of six children, Philip Downing spent his childhood in several cities. Like all great inventors, he discovered a need and filled it.

Back then, anyone interested in mailing a letter would have to make the long trip to the post office. Philip Downing designed a metal box with four legs, which he patented on October 27, 1891. What’s known today as a mailbox, he named a “street letter box” at the time.

Until this point, those wishing to send mail usually had to travel to the post office. Downing’s invention would instead allow for nearby drop-offs and pick-ups for both letter carriers and mailers.

It included a feature that kept bad weather, such as rain and snow, from damaging the mail. It also included a safety feature that made the mail secure until it was picked up by postal employees.

During the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century, Philip Downing successfully filed at least five patents with the United States Patent Office, but none were more widely used than the mailbox.

Philip Downing deserves his own stamp.

More than twenty-five years later, on January 26, 1917, Downing would receive another patent (U.S. Patent number 1243,595), for an envelope moistener. It utilized a roller and a small, attached water tank, to quickly moisten envelopes.

Philip Downing died in Boston on June 8, 1934. He was 77.

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All Black, female World War 2 Battalion to be honored by White House March 17, 2022 - 10:24 am

[…] Black people have made mailing easier for centuries. […]

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