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On this date in 1856, Granville T. Woods was born in Columbus, Ohio. He was a Black businessman and inventor.
Woods began work in a machine shop at age ten. Though largely self-taught, he studied electrical and mechanical engineering from 1876 to 1878. After that, he worked on a British steamer, then became an engineer on a railroad based in Cincinnati, where he settled around 1880. Woods received his first patent in 1884 for a steam boiler furnace. In 1885 he invented a system called telegraphony, which allowed telegraph lines to carry voice signals.
In October 1887, he patented the induction telegraph for sending messages to and from moving trains. Other inventions for electric railways included electromechanical and electromagnetic brakes, a wheeled trolley for drawing power for streetcars from overhead wires, and a safety cutout to prevent injury from accidental contact with overhead wires. He manufactured and sold his inventions through the Woods Electric Company for a while, but he later sold his patent rights to the General Electric Company.
In 1890 Woods moved to New York City. In collaboration with his brother Lyates, he patented emergency braking systems and devices relating to third-rail power. During his prolific career, Woods received 35 patents for inventions that contributed to developing the transportation and communication industries.
In 1893, Woods received a patent for an electric railway conduit, and in 1902, he received a patent for an automatic brake system. As a Black inventor, however, he had difficulty marketing his inventions and sold them to well-financed corporations, such as General Electric and American Bell Telephone. Woods spent the last years of his life in virtual poverty as he battled in court for control of his inventions.
Created Equal The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators
By James Michael Brodie
Copyright 1993, by Bill Adler Books, Inc.
William Morrow and Co. Inc., New York