Granville T. Woods
April 23, 1856 - January 30, 1910

Granville T. Woods was an African American inventor. He was born in Columbus, Ohio and died in New York. He attended school in Columbus until age 10, when he then went to work with his father. They worked in a machine shop that made speed equipment for carriages and repaired railroad equipment and machinery. Woods learned his skills on the job. He served as an apprentice in a machine shop and learned the trades of machinist and blacksmith. Woods also studied other machine workers and different pieces of equipment and was said to have paid workers to teach him electrical concepts. 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.

He was known as the Black Thomas Edison.

Woods dedicated his life to developing a variety of improvements relating to the railroad industry and in a short time became Chief Engineer of the steamer Ironsides. Two years later he obtained employment with D&S Railroads, driving a steam locomotive. Unfortunately, despite his high aptitude and valuable education and expertise, Woods was denied opportunities and promotions because of the color of his skin. Out of frustration and a desire to promote his abilities, Woods, along with his brother Lyates, formed the Woods Railway Telegraph company in 1884. The company manufactured and sold telephone, telegraph and electrical equipment. Finally, his travels and experiences led him to settle in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Woods dedicated his life to developing a variety of inventions relating to the railroad industry. To some he was known as the "Black Edison", both great inventors of their time. Woods invented more than a dozen devices to improve electric railway cars and many more for controlling the flow of electricity. 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.

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, Woods 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 the person most responsible for modernizing the railroad.

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, New York. In 1887, he patented the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph, which allowed communications between train stations from moving trains. Woods's invention made it possible for trains to communicate with the station and with other trains so they knew exactly where they were at all times.

Alexander Graham Bell’s company purchased the rights to Woods’s "telegraphony", enabling him to become a full-time inventor. Among his other top inventions were a steam boiler furnace and an automatic air brake used to slow or stop trains. Woods’s electric car was powered by overhead wires. It was the third rail system to keep cars running on the right track.

Success led to lawsuits filed by Thomas Edison, who claimed that he was the first inventor of the multiplex telegraph. Woods eventually won, but Edison didn’t give up easily when he wanted something. Trying to win over Woods (and his inventions), Edison offered Woods a prominent position in the engineering department of Edison Electric Light Company in New York. Woods, preferring his independence, declined.

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