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Celebrating Black History Month

February 9, 2021
recognizing trailblazing innovators

In honor of Black History Month, we’re celebrating history-making individuals in the plumbing and water heating space, recognizing the innovation and achievements of these trailblazers that made and continue to make an impact on our industry today.

Read on to learn more about three Black plumbing and water heating pioneers:

Adrienne Bennett, the First Black Female Master Plumber in the U.S.

Even when Adrienne Bennett was a young girl, she had a passion for figuring out how things work, according to CNN’s profile on the innovator. And as a young, 22-year-old woman, after bouncing between various jobs, she had a chance-meeting with a recruiter for an apprenticeship program for skilled trades, catapulting her into a barrier-breaking and successful career.1
After a five-year apprenticeship with Plumbers’ Union, Local 98, Bennett went on to log the 4,000 hours of experience required to qualify for the master plumber exam. By age 30, she became the first Black female master plumber in the U.S.1
Today, Bennett is the President & CEO of Benkari, a contracting company in Detroit, Michigan, where she remains Michigan’s first and only female licensed Master Plumber and Plumbing Contractor. She’s an active member of many industry associations, including the American Association of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE), and is a licensed instructor at the State of Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.2

J.B. Rhodes, Inventor of a Water Closet Attachment

During his lifetime, Jerome Bonaparte (J.B.) Rhodes received more than 200 patents, mostly connected to transportation innovations for automobiles and railroad cars, according to WMUK.3
However, in 1899, Rhodes applied for a patent for his invention of an attachment that improved water closets, or as we know it today, a toilet. This attachment was a tube connected to the closet to be used as a sprayer—a precursor to today’s bidets which have regained popularity again in recent years.4

Dr. Robert Ellerston Shurney, Designer of a Waste Control System for Skylab

After serving in World War II, Dr. Robert Ellerston Shurney earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Physics and Electrical Engineering from Tennessee State University and immediately went on to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.5
While he earned many great achievements during his 28 years at NASA, including the Lunar Flight Award, Apollo Achievement Award, Skylab Achievement Award and NASA Exceptional Service Medal,5 Shurney was also the designer of a game-changing innovation for space crafts: a waste management compartment. Developed for Skylab missions, the waste management compartment was an upgrade compared to the previous systems in place, as it overcame the challenges presented by zero gravity conditions by incorporating a fan and vacuum suction, according to Air & Space magazine.6