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Osbourn Dorsey, at 16, is credited with inventing the doorknob and doorstop in 1878.
He was born in 1836 in Virginia. Captured in the Washington DC slave emancipation records from April 1862, Dorsey is listed as “Osbourn Dorsey- son of Christina- Aged about eight months- ordinary size- dark complexion.”
According to Face2Face Africa, he was born a slave but freed when he was around eight months old, according to history.
His sister, Mary was six years older than him and was also described as ordinary sized while Levi was four years old and described as huge in stature.
Dorsey was a self-taught inventor. He began his career as a blacksmith, but he soon turned his attention to inventing.
Details from the 1880 census indicate that when Osbourn Dorsey was 18 years old, he worked as a butcher and resided with his parents, siblings and brother-in-law, Isaac Williams.
Before Dorsey invented the door knob, people relied on some type of latch to close their doors, with others using leather straps as handles.
Osbourn Dorsey used cast iron instead of wood or metal
In 1878, he patented the doorknob and doorstop. His invention was a major improvement over the previous versions of doorknobs and doorstops, which were often made of wood or metal and were difficult to use.
Dorsey’s doorknobs and doorstops were made of cast iron and were much easier to operate.
Even after the doorknob was invented it took years for people to embrace them fully and begin installing them on the doors in their homes.
Eventually Dorsey’s invention became a ubiquitous success, and he soon began to manufacture his doorknobs and doorstops on a large scale.
In addition to the doorknob and doorstop, Osbourn Dorsey also invented a clothes wringer, a fire escape, and a machine for making bricks.
Before his invention people closed and secured doors in a variety of ways. Many people used some type of latch to keep doors closed, whereas others used leather straps as handles.
Though he successfully obtained a patent for his work, because of the time in which he lived and the fact that he was Black, very little is known about his actual life.
Osbourn Dorsey is one of many ancestors who made significant contributions to our world, even in the face of relentless discrimination and racism at home.
While very little is known about Dorsey during his lifespan, his ingenuity and brilliance has opened the door for generations to come.