U.S. DOT Celebrates African American History Month: Granville T. Woods
Often referred to as the “Black Edison,” inventor and engineer Granville T. Woods played a key role in modernizing America’s railroad industry.
Compared to the likes of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison but often left out of history books, Woods devoted his life to developing new electrical, mechanical and communication devices that are still used today.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1856, Woods worked a variety of rail jobs, including working as a railroad engineer. Due to the color of his skin, however, he was often denied opportunities within the companies for which he worked, which motivated him to start his own business, Woods Railway Telegraph Company, in 1884.
After going out on his own and with help from his brother, Woods began work on a device called the “telegraphony,” which was patented in 1885. The invention allowed a telegraph station to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire and was later sold to the American Bell Telephone Company.
In 1887, building on his knowledge of communications and railway operations, Woods came up with one of his most significant inventions yet, the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph. This device made it possible to send messages from moving trains to railway stations, increasing safety by allowing dispatchers to know where trains were at any given time.
Woods died at age 53, but during his short life he patented more than 50 inventions including the precursor to the modern-day “third rail” and an automatic brake system. His inventions were ahead of his time and helped lay the foundation for today’s railway systems.