Woods, Granville T.

Granville T. Woods was an African American inventor. He was born in Columbus, Ohio on April 23, 1856 and died in New York on January 30, 1910. Woods devoted his life to discovering new ways of improving an array of things specific to the railroad industry. More than a dozen devices to improve electric railway cars were invented by Woods, as well as many more for controlling the flow of electricity. One of his most notable inventions was a system for advising the train engineer of how close his train was to another. This device helped eliminate train accidents and collisions.

Unlike so many other inventors of superior educational backgrounds, Granville T. Wood obtained most of his knowledge on the job. He did, however, value learning and understood its worth in developing essential skills that would enable him to articulate his creativity in machinery. Although he only went to traditional school in Columbus until he was age 10, he did attend night school and took private lessons in his youth. He left school to work with his father in a machine shop where he served an apprenticeship as both a machinist and blacksmith.

In 1872, Woods obtained employment with the Danville & Southern Railroad in Missouri as a fireman, eventually promoting to engineer. He studied electronics intently in his free time. Then in 1874, Woods moved to Springfield, Illinois and took a job in a rolling mill. He was employed in 1878 aboard the Ironsides, a British steamer, and within two years he was promoted to Chief Engineer of the steamer. He finally ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he focused his efforts on modernizing the railroad.

In 1888, he created a system for overhead electric conduction lines utilized for railroads, which was intricate in the establishment of the overhead railroad system found in transit trains in major cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, and New York City. He became fascinated in his early thirties about thermal power and steam-driven engines. In 1889, he filed his first patent for an enhanced version of the steam-boiler furnace. In 1892 at Coney Island, NY, a complete Electric Railway System was operating. The Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph, which permitted communications between train stations and trains in motion, was patented in 1887. This invention made it possible for trains to be in direct communication with stations and other trains at all times to know of each others location.

When his patent rights to the “telegraphony” were purchased by Alexander Graham Bell’s company, Woods was able to become an official inventor full-time. Some of his other great inventions were a steam boiler furnace and automatic air brake used to slow down or halt trains. Wood’s electric car was powered by overhead wires. It was the third rail system to maintain cars on the right track.

Glory in his achievements soon led to unwarranted lawsuits filed by Thomas Edison who presumed he was the first inventor of the multiplex telegraph. The legal system eventually proved Wood’s to be the original inventor however Edison did not accept the verdict easily. In attempt to try and gain Woods’ inventions, Edison extended an offer for a prominent position in the engineering department of Edison Electric Light Company in New York. Favoring his independence, Granville T. Woods did not accept.

To some, Woods has been coined the “Black Thomas Edison.” Both were two invaluable inventors of their time.

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