April 23, 1856 – January 30, 1910
Granville Woods was born into a free family in Columbus, Ohio on April 23, 1856. He was formally educated until the age of ten, at which point he became an apprentice at a machine shop. Woods learned enough on the job to work as both a machinist and blacksmith. While still in his teens, Woods began working in various positions on railroads and eventually rose to the position of engineer.
As a result of leaving traditional school at an early age, Woods continued his education by reading, attending night school, and otherwise learning in his spare time. While living in New York City during his early 20s, Woods enrolled in a trade school and took classes in electrical and mechanical engineering.
Despite having several years of experience and completing a training course, Woods still had difficulties in his career. In previous roles, Woods had to deal with racial discrimination and found himself unable to move up into higher positions. Accepting another engineer position on a British steamship allowed Woods to travel and see the world.
Upon returning to America in 1880, Woods decided not to continue struggling against limited employment options. Instead, he formed the Woods Electric Company in Cincinnati, Ohio and went to work for himself. The company began as a machine shop but eventually concentrated its focus on improving, inventing, and selling electrical appliances for railroads.
Early inventions included the “troller” wheel system for electrically powering trains from above rather than with stream resulting in trolleys. The “telegraphony” induction telegraph which made use of existing telegraph lines to allow trains and railroad stations to communicate. As well as the electrified third rail system which is still used in New York City and on other train lines. There were also improvements to the automatic airbrake and steam boiler furnace.
In 1890, Woods relocated himself and his company to New York City. He eventually came into contact with several other noted inventors of the time. The sale of his rights to telegraphony to Alexander Graham Bell helped to finance his later inventions. Thomas Edison sued him over the origination of one of his inventions and then offered Woods a job after losing the case which he declined.
Over the course of his career as an inventor, Granville Woods racked up more than 60 patents. His contributions to improved railroad safety and efficiency were eventually purchased by General Electric and Westinghouse and many are still in use today.
- Butler, Gerry. “Granville T. Woods (1856-1910).” BlackPast, August 7, 2019. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/woods-granville-t-1856-1910/.
- “Granville T. Woods.” Ohio History Central. Accessed October 4, 2019. https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Granville_T._Woods.
- “Granville T. Woods.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, June 23, 2019. https://www.biography.com/inventor/granville-t-woods.
- “Granville T. Woods: Inventor and Innovator.” US Department of Transportation. United States Department of Transportation, February 7, 2018. https://www.transportation.gov/connections/granville-t-woods-inventor-and-innovator.
- “Inventors HOF Inductee Granville Woods Invented Railroad Telegraphy.” Invent.org. National Inventors Hall of Fame. Accessed October 4, 2019. https://www.invent.org/inductees/granville-woods.
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