When thinking about famous Black inventors, Otis Boykin might not immediately come to mind, however, a piece of him may literally be in your heart. This brilliant Black man is responsible for revolutionizing the pacemaker and keeping our hearts beating longer.
Boykin held 26 patents for various inventions and became most well-known for his work with resistors. For those of us who are not scientists, a resistor essentially controls the amount of electricity that flows through an object. Boykin’s breakthrough device “could withstand extreme temperatures and tolerate and withstand various levels of pressure and physical trauma without impairing its effectiveness,” making it ideal for the human heart.
In the science community, Boykin worked as a lab assistant, then research supervisor, up until launching his own company, Boykin-Fruth, Inc. Boykin’s resistors were cheaper and more effective than his competitors, which led to his products being highly sought after for the U.S. military’s guided missiles, IBM’s computers, and by radio/TV companies.
Born in 1920 in Dallas, Boykin traversed tremendous obstacles on his way to success. At the age of one, his mother died of heart failure which forever affected him and served as his primary motivation for developing his groundbreaking technology for the pacemaker. In spite of this early loss, Boykin excelled in school and eventually became a proud graduate of Fisk University. Soon after enrolling in graduate school in Chicago, Boykin dropped out and decided to fully pursue his dream of becoming an inventor.
At the time, Boykin had no idea heart disease would become such a prevalent killer or that his inventions would have such a profound impact on the Black community. With the highest rates of heart failure due to high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol, Boykin’s pacemaker may be needed now more than ever before as hundreds of thousands of people benefit from the medical device each year.
Ironically, Boykin himself died of heart failure. Ultimately, even his own life’s work could not save him. In spite of his untimely death, his work left an indelible mark on the science and medical communities. His innovation places him among the ranks of George Washington Carver, Benjamin Banneker, Garrett Morgan, and many other notable Black inventors.