Monday, February 6, 2012
Granville T. Woods
Granville T. Woods (April 23, 1856 – January 30, 1910), was an African-American inventor who held more than 60 patents. Most of his work was on trains and street cars. Woods also invented the Multiplex Telegraph, a device that sent messages between train stations and moving trains. Born in Columbus, Ohio, on April 23, 1856, Granville T. Woods dedicated his life to developing a variety of inventions relating to the railroad industry.
Granville T. 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 Nebraska, 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 dedicated to modernizing the railroad.
Woods developed several improvements to the railroad system, and was referred to by some as the "Black Edison."
In 1885, Woods patented an apparatus which was a combination of a telephone and a telegraph. The device, which he called "telegraphony", would allow a telegraph station to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire. He sold the rights to this device to the American Bell Telephone Company. In 1887, he patented the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph, which allowed communications between train stations from moving trains. Thomas Edison later filled a claim to the ownership of this patent. In 1888, Woods manufactured a system of overhead electric conducting lines for railroads modeled after the system pioneered by Charles van Depoele, a famed inventor who had by then installed his electric railway system in thirteen U.S. cities. In 1889, he filed a patent for an improvement to the steam-boiler furnace.
Woods is sometimes credited with the invention of the electric third rail, however, many third rail systems were in place in both Europe and North America at the time Woods filed for his patent in 1901. Thomas Edison had been awarded a patent for the third rail almost a decade earlier, in 1882.
By the time of his death in 1910, Woods had made a successful career as an engineer and inventor.