Thomas L. Jennings is the first Black individual to be granted a patent in the United States, according to the National Geographic.

Jennings, born in 1791 to a freed family in New York City, NY, would become an entrepreneur, owning his own tailoring business, per Lemelson–MIT. He had worked various jobs before settling on being a tailor, and his popularity grew within his community, allowing him to open a storefront, Black Inventor reports.

However, Jennings’ customers, seemingly satisfied with his service, addressed concerns about cleaning the fabric he used. This led him to experiment to create solutions and cleaning agents, and he developed the “dry-scouring” method, which lifts stains and dirt from fabrics through solvents without the worries of shrinkage or comprising the fabric, per GreenEarth Cleaning.

Today, the technique is more commonly known as dry-cleaning.

Black Inventor noted that Jennings applied to patent the method in 1820. At this time, to adhere to the Patent Act of 1793, an individual was required to sign an oath confirming their status as a United States citizen. In 1821, the U.S. Patent Office granted him said patent and made history.

While the creator was helping people with ways to clean clothing, Jennings was very committed to uplifting others in the Black community.

Jennings profited from the patent, reportedly earning substantial revenue, and allocated his royalties to fighting for equal rights and social change. Gotham Center reports he was a member of the National Conventions of the People of Colour, trustee of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and one of the leaders who helped launch Freedom’s Journal, the first-ever African American newspaper in the country.

Jennings’s time on earth ended on February 11, 1859, at age 68. In a eulogy, American abolitionist Frederick Douglass referred to him as a “bold man of color” who lived an “active, earnest, and blameless life,” per Gotham Center.

Thanks to Jennings’ innovative thinking, the dry-cleaning process has exponentially grown over the years. As reported by Hangers Cleaners, the dry cleaning industry in the United States brings in roughly $8 billion for the economy. The demand for such services has expanded to reach residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, accumulating over 31,000 dry-cleaning businesses nationwide.

A news release mentions that Jennings was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) posthumously in 2015 and the inventor’s legacy continues to live on.