This summer I attended a historic marker dedication for Granville T. Woods in Washington Courthouse, Ohio. Here’s a segment of my presentation “Reflections on Granville T. Woods”
Who was Granville T. Woods? There are a few names of men like Woods who are instantly recognizable: Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin. All of these men made a name for themselves and we recognize their contributions to our life today. Granville Woods is a name that may not be as popular, but his contributions to society were just as impactful. In fact, the most famous inventor of his time, Thomas Edison, wanted Woods on his team after losing litigation for the rights to one of Woods’ inventions.
Granville Woods received his first patent in 1884. After spending considerable time working in electronics, machinery, blacksmithing and railroad engineering, Woods gained significant education and experience. But with everything he learned, he was limited in how far he could rise in the railroad industry due to his skin color.
Undeterred, Woods sought a path to greatness by other means. If he could not rise professionally by way of others, he would create his own opportunities. This would not be easy. Woods struggled getting steady employment to fund his initial inventions and to make matters worse, he was afflicted with an illness that made it more difficult for him to physically make any progress in his work and more importantly, take care of his family. Woods testified that “…for a long time afterward (he) was in extreme financial embarrassment from the expenses of (his) illness and inability to do work.”
Yet, he pressed passed those difficulties, got back on his feet, continued his work, and headed toward his first patent: A Steam Boiler Furnace. A few inventions later, he created an Induction Telegraph System, allowing messages to be sent to and from moving trains, enabling train conductors and engineers to avoid collisions and report hazards on tracks ahead. This invention was responsible for saving countless lives. Other communication inventions include the telegraphony, which allowed a telegraph station to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire. By selling that invention to the American Bell Telephone Company, Woods gained the financing needed to take his operation to greater heights.
We recognize Woods today for his great accomplishments in mechanical and electrical engineering. A great Ohioan, born in Columbus, traveled extensively by way of the railroad industry, and for a few years, worked and resided here in Washington Courthouse. While here, he continued his education in the field of the locomotive industry and also while here, as a railroad locomotive engineer, he made observations that would inform some of his inventions to come.
In Cincinnati, Woods and his team invented 15 appliances for electrified railways and by the end of his career, he had achieved more than 100 patents. This would inform mechanical and electrical engineering, communication, and transportation fields for years to come