– Pic Courtesy of DocSouth.unc.edu

Bio(Courtesy of Inventions.org):

The Catholic Tribune (Cincinnati, Ohio) of January 14, 1866 carried an article which included this statement, “Granville T. Woods, the greatest colored inventor in the history of the race, and equal, if not superior, to any inventor in the country, is destined to revolutionize the mode of the street car transit.”

A little more than a year later, April 1, 1887 it said, “Mr. Woods, who is the greatest electrician in the world, still continues to add to his long list of electrical inventions.”

Since the Woods’ Railway Telegraph Company was located in Cincinnati at that time, the extravagance of these two statements may be partly attributed to the civic pride, but they also truthfully reflected the inventive fertility of this mechanical genius. During his lifetime he earned over thirty-five patents, ranging from a steam boiler furnace (1884), and an incubator (1900) to the automatic air brake (1902). Many of his electrical inventions were sold to the American Bell Telephone Company and the General Electric Company; the Westinghouse Air Brake Company eventually obtained his air brake patent.

While he patented more than a dozen inventions for electric railways and many more for electrical control and distribution, his most noteworthy device in this area was the “Induction Telegraph”, a system for communicating to and from moving trains. Accidents and collisions were causing great concern to both the public and the railways at that time and many electrical engineers were seeking improvement of the conventional telegraph as a solution. When Woods came out with his Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph “for the purpose of averting accidents by keeping each train informed of the whereabouts of the one immediately ahead or following it; in communicating with stations from moving trains; and in promoting general social and commercial intercourse”, he was contested by the Edison and Phelps Company which was working on a similar device. In the patent offices’ case of Woods vs. Phelps, Wood was twice declared the inventor.

G.T. Woods was born in Columbus, Ohio, April 23, 1856, where he attended school until he was 10 and then worked in a machine shop. This basic mechanical knowledge was increased, by jobs on a Missouri railroad in 1872, in a Springfield rolling mill in 1874, and mechanical engineering training at an Eastern College in 1876. In 1878 he obtained work as an engineer on board the Ironsides,a British steamer, and in 1880 actually handled a steam locomotive on the D & S Railroad. In spite of his background and engineering skill he was unable to advance in these jobs. He then started his own company to market his telegraph and other inventions.

Of the more than 60 patents that he registered, the majority were concerned with railroad telegraphs, electrical brakes and electrical railway systems. Some referring to him as “The Black Edison” for his prolific inventive skills, he was widely known for his ingenious contributions.

Some of his better known contributions were in developing the “third rail” concept in mass-transit subway systems and developing the “trolley” system for trolley cars.

Here are just a few of Woods’ inventions:

  • Steam Boiler Furnace
  • Electric Railway
  • Automatic Air Brake
  • Telephone Transmitter
  • Electromechanical Brake
  • Railway Telegrapy
  • Induction Telegraph System
  • Overhead Conducting System for Electrified Railway
  • Tunnel Construction for Electric Railway
  • Galvanic Battery

Information Sources: A Short History of the American Negro, New York, 1931, pp. 227-228; Henry E. Baker. “The Negro in the Field of Invention”, Journal of Negro History, II (January 1917), p. 82; W.A.Low, V.A.Clift, Encyclopedia of Black America; M. Burt, Black Inventors of America.

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