This Day in History: April 23rd

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Granville T. Woods, Inventor of the First Telephone, Was Born

Granville T. Woods, an American inventor often referred to as the “Black Edison,” was born on April 23, 1856, to free African-Americans in Ohio. 

Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Woods received little schooling as a child. Instead, he worked and took up jobs as a railroad worker and railroad engineer in a railroad machine shop, a steel mill and a British ship. With limited education, he became an apprentice and learned his skills in machinery and blacksmithing while working on the job. 

In the mid-1870s, he moved to New York City for several years and realized that receiving an education would be an essential part of building his skill set in machinery and electricity (which he saw as the keys to the future). While in New York Woods began taking courses in engineering and electricity. 

After returning to Ohio, Woods gained employment with the Springfield, Jackson and Pomeroy Railroad Company to work at their pumping stations and went on to work for the Dayton and Southeastern Railway Company as an engineer. It was while working for these companies that Woods started to develop the idea for an “induction telegraph.” 

Woods eventually settled in Cincinnati, Ohio where he started his life-long work of improving railroads and their equipment. He established his own company to develop, manufacture and sell electrical equipment. Woods filed for his first patent in 1889, which was for an improved steam boiler furnace.

Some of Woods’ other inventions include an improved telephone transmitter, an improved air-brake system and other electrical devices. However, one of his most notable patents was for his device that combined the telephone and telegraph. The device allowed a telegraph station to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire. Woods’ device caught the attention of Alexander Graham Bell, who purchased the rights to the patent. 

The financial freedom from Bell’s purchase allowed Woods to focus on inventing full-time. Woods created the “troller,” which would later become the trolleys we see today. Another notable invention of Woods’ is the multiplex induction telegraph. The device allowed people to communicate over telegraph wires and led to faster communication of important information. Thomas Edison sued Woods, claiming that he invented the induction telegraph, but lost the case in court. Edison even offered Woods a prominent partner position in his company, but Woods declined. 

The “Black Edison,” had invented 15 appliances for electric railways and received nearly 60 patents by the time of his death on January 30, 1910. His inventions and improvements have helped to advance daily societal life. 

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