The American dream has been shaped by numerous ambitious persons, who were born or moved to the land of all opportunities with hopes of a better life. Still, not many avenues were open in the 19th century for the African American inventors and businessmen. Besides needing courage, will, intelligence and desire to risk, the African American inventors and businessmen also had to fight prejudice, and so they put even more effort into the realization of their dreams. Such an example was the great Granville T. Woods, who began to invent things, since he was not able to get a job because of his skin color.

Granville T Woods the inventor

He started from the bottom and managed to eventually become an engineer. Thereafter, Granville T. Woods quickly turned into a prolific inventor, who was nicknamed ‘The Black Edison’. In 1884, he obtained the first patent act for a steam caldron engine. He patented a telephone transmitter, later acquired by Bell Telephone Company. It was called ‘telegraphony’, a system that combined the telephone and the telegraph into one machine that permitted the message sending through just one wire. He also founded the Woods Electric Company, in New York. Woods’s most important invention is the introduction of the telegraph system in 1887, thus ensuring a railroad trip without dangers. In total, his number of recorded patents exceeds 60, and his biggest contribution to the world is the development of street cars and telephones. His inventions are mostly in the mechanical and electrical field.

Woods was born in Columbus, Ohio, on April 23, 1856. He was born in a free family, in the climate of the Civil War. He had to leave school at the age of 10, but continued to educate himself. He read a lot because he knew the value of being informed and educated. He believed that he could not express his potential into something concrete without theoretical information. He always had ideas, but needed to know how to put them in practice. He changed many jobs that were not leading to anything specific. As a child, he was an apprentice in a shop, where he learnt how to be a machinist. Later on, he started working as an engineer, and spent his free time studying about electronics. He worked on a railway, at a steel mill, as a fireman and then in a steamer, which were to be future fields of his inventions.

At one point, he started attending courses at night, considering self teaching is not enough. He also traveled around the country and even to Great Britain, in order to work. Being so inventive and good at what he did, he could not remain anonymous or unobserved. Woods’s first registered patent was in 1884, for some improvements he brought to the steam boiler. He also invented many appliances for the electric railway. Woods soon opened his own shop, together with his brother, in Cincinnati, and managed to sell his inventions to large corporations. He opened this business out of inability to maintain a good job and to profit from his talents at maximum. In 1888, he developed a system of overhead lines for the railroad, which conducted electricity to trains, the future trolleys.

After he turned 30, Woods developed an interest in steam engines and invented several things related to that. Woods’s big breakthrough was the telegraph he invented, which allowed trains to communicate with the station and to one another, stopping the phenomenon of collisions and accidents. He solved a problem that concerned all people and made transport faster. A multiplex system is a procedure used in telecommunications to simultaneously transmit more messages on the same circuit of an electrical line, or through the same electromagnetic wave. Until then, there was no communication among trains and dispatchers – so they could not be located. For this reason, many accidents occurred. Woods revolutionized street cars and helped save people’s lives at the same time. This is, by far, Woods’s most notable invention. Despite the success, Woods was sued by Thomas Edison, who claimed that he had invented the multiplex telegraph. However, Woods won this. Being aware of his value, Edison then offered Woods a job within his company in New York, which Woods rejected in favor of independence.

Another of his inventions was a device that supplies electricity to trains with no wire or additional batteries. Granville Woods demonstrated its function in an amusement park. Most of Woods’s inventions are connected to the railroad system. He came up with the idea of the third rail that allows the train to capture more electricity at a diminished friction. This system is still applied today in all big cities that have subways. But he also designed air brakes and more importantly the electric incubator, used nowadays to incubate thousands of eggs.

After giving so much to the world, Woods died of a stroke on January 30, 1910. He was only 53 years old. In spite of all successes and being respected during his lifetime, he was extremely poor when he died. He spent his money on legal issues and fees and to defend his patents.

In times when African Americans could not even be educated, Woods was a genius who overcame his condition, followed his dream and succeeded. Because of discrimination, he never accepted job offers from big companies, also trying to make a point that way. With his activity, he made people’s lives easier and accelerated America’s progress towards being a modern country. Most people who worked with him felt that it was a pleasure to do so. He was very passionate and enjoyed the fact that he could help a lot of people with his inventions. The media was very positive towards him as well. He was even acclaimed as the greatest electrician of his time, which is huge accomplishment considering the fact that he was a self-taught in that field. There is no one that can doubt Woods’ native talent, extreme ambition, character and brilliant mind.