Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Harvard, Claude

Inventor Claude Harvard was born on March 11, 1911 in Dublin, Georgia. His family moved to Detroit when he was 11 years old.  There, Harvard’s shop teacher noticed his strong interest in electronics and machines and referred him to the Henry Ford Trade School.  The school was created for orphan children to learn tool and die making. Though Harvard was not an orphan, the principal made an exception, but warned that if he was caught in a fight he would be kicked out.  African American students like Harvard were taunted and harassed by the white students, and those who fought back were expelled. Harvard graduated without incident at the top of his class, with special aptitude in mathematics and blueprint reading. However, he was the only one of his class of 33 to not receive a journeyman tool-and-die maker’s card. 

While still in school, he was the first African American in Michigan to receive an amateur radio license, having developed an early interest in the hobby back in Georgia.

Harvard graduated in 1932. His lack of a journeyman’s card hardly mattered for he was hired by the Ford Motor Company to work in the engineering and design department. He had met Henry Ford at the school when Ford asked him to repair a radio. His first achievement was inventing an automatic pin gauging and sorting machine that would identify and reject faulty piston pins which were causing customer complaints about noisy engines.  Ford sent Harvard to the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago to showcase his device and the company went on to patent 29 of Harvard’s inventions, but as the patents were Ford property, Harvard received nothing outside of his salary.

Harvard appeared on a full-page Ford advertisement in a 1937 Popular Science Monthly and on a calendar of “Celebrated Negro Inventors.”  He was sent by Ford to speak at the Tuskegee Institute, where he spent time with founder George Washington Carver. The two became friends and Harvard was able to facilitate a meeting between Carver and Ford.

When Harvard separated from his wife in 1938, he was forced to leave Ford because of Henry Ford’s strict moral code for his employees. He wound up at the U.S. Tank-Automotive Command in Warren, Michigan where he worked as an engineer until retiring in 1977. Afterward, he spent several years teaching blueprint reading to students at Focus Hope.

Claude Harvard died in 1999.