This week and throughout the month of February, LumAware is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting African-Americans that made their mark in US History. This week, we are taking a look at the life of Granville T. Woods, premier inventor and firefighter from Cincinnati, who was hailed as the “Black Thomas Edison”. 

Granville Woods is one of the most celebrated inventors in our home city of Cincinnati, Ohio. He was born on April 23, 1856, to an African-American father and a part Native American mother. He attended school until age 10 but stopped due to poverty. To help his family, he served as an apprentice in a machine shop and learned the machinist and blacksmith trades.

In 1872, Woods became a firefighter on the Danville and Southern Railroad in Missouri and later promoted to engineer. He studied mechanical and electrical engineering in college in 1876-78. In 1878, he worked in the British steamship Ironsides and later became its chief engineer. Facing discrimination due to his skin color, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where he established his own machine shop in 1880 which later became the Woods Electric Co.

Woods Developed an improved steam boiler, invented the first electric railway that was powered with electric lines from above the train, and created the first telegraph service that allowed messages to be sent from moving trains. 

Thanks to Woods, American railroads have become safer, faster, and more efficient. Despite the difficulties for minorities to obtain patents in his time, he overcame these racial obstacles and earned the title “Black Thomas Edison”. By the time of his death on July 30, 1910, he had received more than sixty patents. Unfortunately, racial prejudice and white-centric business culture have forced Woods to sell his patents prematurely instead of benefiting from them in the long term. Woods was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.

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