Granville T. Woods: The Inventor’s Inventor
Inventor Granville T. Woods dedicated his life to developing a variety of inventions to help create a better quality of life for everyone. His vision of coming up with solutions to everyday problems helped him to become an inventor that even other inventors dreamed of.
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Woods was born in Columbus, Ohio, on April 23, 1856, to free African-Americans. He held various engineering and industrial jobs before establishing a company to develop electrical apparatus. Known as “Black Edison,” he registered nearly 60 patents in his lifetime, including a telephone transmitter, a trolley wheel and the multiplex telegraph (over which he defeated a lawsuit by Thomas Edison). Woods died in 1910. His most noted invention was a system for letting the engineer of a train know how close his train was to others.
This device helped cut down accidents and collisions between trains.
Woods literally learned his skills on the job. Attending school in Columbus until age 10, he served an apprenticeship in a machine shop and learned the trades of machinist and blacksmith. During his youth, he also went to night school and took private lessons. Although he had to leave formal school at age ten, Woods realized that learning and education were essential to developing critical skills that would allow him to express his creativity with machinery.
In 1872, Woods obtained a job as a fireman on the Danville and Southern railroad in Missouri, eventually becoming an engineer. He invested his spare time in studying electronics. In 1874, he moved to Springfield, Illinois, and worked in a rolling mill. In 1878, he took a job aboard the Ironsides, a British steamer, and, within two years, became Chief Engineer of the steamer.
Finally, his travels and experiences led him to settle in Cincinnati, Ohio where he became a person dedicated to modernizing the railroad.
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In 1888, Woods developed a system for overhead electric conducting lines for railroads, which aided in the development of the overhead railroad system found in cities such as Chicago, St.
Louis, and New York City. In his early thirties, he became interested in thermal power and steam-driven engines. In 1889, he filed his first patent for an improved steam boiler furnace. In 1892, a complete Electric Railway System was operated at Coney Island, NY. In 1887, he patented the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph, which allowed men to communicate by voice over telegraph wires, ultimately helping to speed up important communications. This drastically improved communications between train stations and moving trains, making it possible for trains to communicate with the station and with other trains so they knew exactly where they were at all times. And, subsequently, preventing crucial errors such as train accidents.
Alexander Graham Bell’s company purchased the rights to Woods’ telegraphony patent enabling him to become a full-time inventor. Among his other top inventions were a…