Black in the Day…The Train Guru

November 21, 1893:

On this day, Granville T. Woods patented the Electric Railway Conduit. This invention allowed electricity to be sent to trains in a more effective, safe and efficient manner.


Granville Tailer Woods (April 23, 1856 – January 30, 1910) was an American inventor who held more than 60 patents.[1] He is also the first American of African ancestry to be a mechanical and electrical engineer after the Civil War.[2] Self-taught, he concentrated most of his work on trains and streetcars. One of his notable inventions was the Multiplex Telegraph, a device that sent messages between train stations and moving trains. His work assured a safer and better public transportation system for the cities of the United States.

Woods’s most important invention was the multiplex telegraph, also known as the “induction telegraph,” or block system, in 1887. The device allowed men to communicate by voice over telegraph wires, ultimately helping to speed up important communications and, subsequently, preventing crucial errors such as train accidents. Woods defeated Thomas Edison’s lawsuit that challenged his patent, and turned down Edison’s offer to make him a partner. Thereafter, Woods was often known as “Black Edison.”

After receiving the patent for the multiplex telegraph, Woods reorganized his Cincinnati company as the Woods Electric Co. In 1890, he moved his own research operations to New York City, where he was joined by a brother, Lyates Woods, who also had several inventions of his own.

Early in his career during the summer of 1881, Woods contracted smallpox, which was in its last years as a major health threat in the United States. The often fatal illness sidelined Woods for nearly a year and left him with chronic kidney and liver disease that might have played a role in his early death. He suffered a stroke on Jan. 28, 1910, and died at Harlem Hospital in New York two days later.

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