The next time you talk on the phone, think of Granville Woods. This famous inventor contributed to the development of the telephone and the electric streetcar.
All About Granville Woods
Granville Woods sensed the future was electric.
He studied electricity and engineering, and his many inventions helped improve electric transportation.
Nowadays, we regularly see electric cars and high-speed trains, but a hundred years ago, these were unthinkable.
Granville Woods was a pioneer of electric travel.
His most famous invention paved the way for the telephone and made trains much safer.
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Granville Woods was born in Columbus, Ohio on April 23, 1856.
He received little schooling and mostly taught himself.
He worked in steel mills and machine shops and read books about electricity.
Granville had friends check out books for him at the local library because, as a Black man, he was not allowed to do so himself.
He moved to New York City and took classes in electricity and engineering; he knew that these subjects would be the key to future progress.
After a couple of years, Granville moved back home to Ohio and worked for several railway companies.
During this time, he got the idea for his most famous invention: the inductor telegraph.
His Famous Invention
In 1887, there were two ways to communicate messages long distance.
The first was by telegraph.
People would send electric pulses along a wire in Morse code.
These could be sent miles away from station to station, but it took a while to translate them from Morse code to words.
The second form of communication was the telephone.
You could hear a person speaking on a telephone, but the words were often hard to make out.
The telephone needed a separate cable from the telegraph, and the sound could not travel as far.
Granville Woods invented a machine that combined the telephone with the telegraph.
In this “inductor telegraph,” sounds (like a human voice) could be transmitted clearly along the electric telegraph wire.
Granville Woods sold his inductor telegraph to the famous inventor Alexander Graham Bell.
Granville used this money to open a business and become a full-time inventor.
Remembering Granville Woods
Granville Woods went on to file and receive almost 60 patents for his various inventions.
Improved Steam Boiler Furnace
This was Granville’s first invention–he received a patent for it in 1889.
It created energy by heating water to make steam.
This was a game-changer for the railway industry.
It allowed moving trains to send telegraph messages.
Now train drivers and station masters could communicate quickly and clearly; this prevented many train accidents.
Today, most electric trains use a “third rail” system, which is a metal rail on the ground that carries the electricity to the train.
Granville Woods invented a device called the “power pick-up,” which was the forerunner of the third rail.
It allowed a streetcar (also known as a trolley) to receive electricity from a wire.
Famous Inventor Granville Woods
By the time Granville Woods died on January 30, 1910, he had invented 15 electric appliances for the railway system.
He had nearly 60 patents.
Many of his inventions became a part of the electric machines we know and use today.
He truly was an inventor who propelled America into the future: a future powered by electricity.
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“Granville Woods.” Lemelson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, https://lemelson.mit.edu/resources/granville-woods.
“Granville T. Woods.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 4 May 2021, https://www.biography.com/inventor/granville-t-woods.