BHM Unsung Hero: Granville T. Woods

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Royson Folas, Managing Editor

When we think of the greatest inventors in American history, we often think of the same names: Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, The Wright Brothers, and more. But in the wake of Black History Month, let’s take a look at one of the most unknown and underappreciated black inventors who made some revolutionary inventions for his country.

Granville T. Woods was born in Columbus, Ohio on April 23rd, 1856. He devoted his life to creating numerous inventions to increase the safety and proficiency of the railroad system. In fact, Woods is even dubbed as the “Black Edison” because of the similar significance in his era. 

Whether it be through school, apprenticeships, or private lessons, Woods’ great zest for education allowed him to thrive as an engineer. In 1887, Woods patented arguably his most noteworthy invention, the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph. With this device, moving trains could now communicate with train stations and let them know where they were at all times, leading to the increased safety of the railroad system.

Throughout his life, Woods was able to patent several more inventions such as the Telegraphony, the Steam Boiler Furnace, and the Automatic Air Brake, which was used to slow or stop trains. Unfortunately, during this time period, many people found it hard to believe that a black man could make inventions of this magnitude. Woods’ own business partners would claim his inventions as their own, leading Woods to spend much of his time and money in court. Woods was even sued by his own namesake, Thomas Edison, who tried to claim ownership of the Multiplex Telegraph. After losing the case, Edison offered Woods a prominent position in his company, but Woods declined. 

Granville T. Woods should be remembered as one of the most brilliant inventors in American history. Today, he is overlooked, but he really did play a pivotal role in the advancement of railroad and other modern technology.